Although Georgia congressman Tom Price, the nominee to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, spent much of his time during confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill yesterday defending his position on Obamacare, Price also found himself fending off criticism of his stock trades.
Democratic Senators Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking minority member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Al Franken of Minnesota focused on Price's trades in health care stocks and insisted that he was able to buy shares in some companies at prices lower than those available on public markets.
Murray also placed into the record 25 letters signed by 193 organizations opposing Price's nomination as well as a petition signed by 500,000 people opposing his nomination."
On the stock trades, Price purchased shares of Australian biotech Innate Immunotherapeutics on four separate occasions between January 2015 and August 2016. Three of the purchases were private placements made at prices below where the shares traded on the market. His broker also purchased shares for him in March 2016 in Zimmer Biomet (ZBH - Get Report) and only a week later Price introduced legislation that helped the company.
"These sound like sweetheart deals," Franken said. "I think our job in this body and in Congress and in government is to avoid the appearance of conflict. And boy, you have not done this."
Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah defended Price's trades. "Not only do House rules not prohibit members from trading stocks, but it is also not an uncommon practice for members of Congress. In fact, there are members on this committee who have, as I understand it, who have traded individual health stocks while serving on this committee," Hatch said. "This appears to be nothing more than a hypocritical attack on your good character."
Price himself defended his financial actions. "Everything that we have done has been above-board, transparent, ethical and legal," he said. "The Office of Government Ethics has looked at our holdings and given advice about what would need to be done in terms of divesting from certain stock holdings, to make certain that there's no conflict of interest. We have read those and agreed to those, signed those. That document is online for everybody to see so that everybody is absolutely certain that there will be no conflict of interest whatsoever."