Later today, Rep. Tom Price, Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary, will sit in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and be accused of “insider trading” by Democrats.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Price had traded more than $300,000 in health-care stocks over the last four years while advocating or sponsoring bills affected the stocks of those companies. Price traded industry giants like Amgen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer, and Aetna — or, in other words, the kind of stocks that are part of millions of portfolios, including from a number of Democrats on the committee.
Last March, according to CNN, Price also bought “between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of shares” from Zimmer Biomet Holdings, a medical device manufacturer. Only a few days later, he backed legislation in the House that would have delayed a regulation that could have supposedly damaged the company,
“This new report makes clear that this isn’t just a couple of questionable trades, but rather a clear and troubling pattern of Congressman Price trading stock and using his office to benefit the companies in which he is investing,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Just to be clear, Schumer is accusing Price of corruption. Of criminality. Yet none of the initial trades were questionable in the way that thousands of other trades made by politicians aren’t questionable. Unless every elected Democrat is questionable who’s ever invested or taken money from General Electric, the pharmaceutical industry, the health-care industry, trail lawyers, unions, the auto industry, any green-energy company, or any sector that has benefits from taxpayer bailouts, subsidies, laws or cronyism.
By this standard, nearly everyone on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is a crook.
That includes Sheldon Whitehouse, who owns stock in major insurance companies that have benefited from Obamacare, like Aetna, United Healthcare, Anthem, Celgene, and Merck. Whitehouse has a direct interest in preserving laws that undermine competition. That goes for 1 percenter Elizabeth Warren, who is invested in banks and mutual funds that trade health care and pharmaceutical stock. It certainly means Tim Kaine, who is invested in all kinds of companies his vote affects, including the health-care sector. The same goes for Michael Bennet.
How many Democrats had stock in American auto companies when the bailout was passed? Many. Or in banks that were saved? How many are invested in green energy that is propped up by the taxpayer subsidies they vote on? How many politicians are suspiciously good at picking stocks? Many.
Price’s Zimmer Biomet Holdings trade doesn’t look good. It seems, though, that CNN got the timeline wrong, and Trump’s transition is formally asking CNN to retract an article. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty about it today.
Trump transition says that Price has a “diversified portfolio with Morgan Stanley in a broker-directed account,” and didn’t even know about the trade until weeks later. The transition team says that Price “began work on his legislative effort to delay the comprehensive joint replacement demonstration project in 2015.” They claim Price only held around $2,000 worth of shares in the company. Price reported the transaction as soon as he learned about it and now only stands to make around $300.
All of this might well be true, although I’m unsure why any of that really matters. Price — or any politician — couldn’t possible know how his market investments would turn out. How little or much they ultimately pocket doesn’t speak to intent. The idea of a politician using any inside knowledge, power, or clout to make money is concerning. Would Republicans let a Democrat with a similar trade history off the hook? Unlikely.
Of course, this is all political posturing. But however improbable it was that Price was really “insider trading,” we can’t bore into the souls of politicians and divine their intentions. So everyone should be judged by the same standards, even on trades that are beyond their knowledge. That includes nearly every Democrat who will be grilling Price today.
So try and stop the Price nomination. America will survive. There are plenty of other highly qualified people — and Price is qualified — who will do the hard work of undoing the Obamacare disaster. No one has a God-given right to be HHS secretary or a senator.
Price has, though, promised to divest from more than 40 companies in the health-care sector. If senators want to work on policy, they too should divest all investments related to whatever industry their work influences. Stocks. Mutual funds. All of it. That goes for people who believe health care markets should be freer and those who believe government should be running the energy sector. That’s because too many elected officials end up making money in the market or cashing in on their supposed “public service” by enriching future lobbying clients or companies in their districts with laws that inhibit competition.