By Brenda Flanagan
Senators in two committees spent hours trying to nail down nominees’ positions on some critical issues. They pushed for promises that the Trump administration would protect people’s health and the environment. Democrats got emotional over health care — particularly since the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office just stated 18 million Americans could lose coverage if Obamacare’s repealed and not quickly replaced. But Sen. Bernie Sanders discovered guarantees were hard to get in the confirmation hearing for Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price.
“I believe — and I look forward to working with you — to make certain that every single American has access to the highest quality care and coverage that is possible,” Price said.
“‘Access to’ does not mean that they are guaranteed health care. I have access to buying a $10 million home. I don’t have the money to do that,” Sanders said.
“And that’s why we believe it’s appropriate to put in place a system that gives every person the financial feasibility to be able to purchase the coverage that they want for themselves and for their family — again, not what the government forces them to buy,” Price said.
“Congressman Price, a very simple question. Is the president-elect, Mr. Trump, going to keep his word to the American people and not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid or did he lie to the American people?” Sanders asked.
“I haven’t had extensive discussions with him about the comments that he made, but I have no reason to believe that he’s changed his position,” Price said.
“Do you believe that health care is a right of all Americans, whether they’re rich or they’re poor? Should people — because they are Americans — be able to go to the doctor when they need to? Be able to go into a hospital because they’re Americans?” Sanders asked.
“Yes. We’re a compassionate society,” Price replied.
“No, we are not a compassionate society. In terms of our relationship to poor and working people, our record is worse than virtually any other country on Earth,” Sanders said.
One senator commented that the session felt like an anger management hearing. Temperatures also rose at confirmation hearings for controversial EPA nominee Scott Pruitt. He’s Oklahoma’s attorney general — a climate change skeptic who filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA. Sen. Cory Booker talked about asthma — a big problem in Newark and in Pruitt’s home state — where one in 10 kids has asthma. He pressed Pruitt hard.
“One in 10 kids having a disease, missing school, is a significant problem. And so you have been writing letters on behalf of polluting industries. I want to ask you, how many letters did you write to the EPA about this health crisis? If this is representative government, did you represent those children? I want to know what actions you’ve taken in the past six years in your capacity as protector of the welfare of Oklahoma citizens to protect that welfare of those 111,000 children. Did you ever let any of them write letters on your letterhead to the EPA and did you even file one lawsuit, one lawsuit on behalf of those kids to reduce the air pollution in your state and help them to have a healthy life?” Booker asked.
“Senator, I’ve actually provided a list of cases to the chairman with respect to enforcement steps we’ve taken in multiple pieces of environmental litigation. But let me say to you with respect to cross-state air pollution and some of the cases you refer to, the state has to have an interest before it can bring those cases, as you know. You can’t just bring a lawsuit if you don’t have standing, if there’s not been some injury to the state,” Pruitt said.
Booker has indicated he will not vote for Pruitt and that he can’t support the president-elect’s nominees for attorney general, secretary of state and education secretary. Sen. Bob Menendez hasn’t stated how he will vote. Senate committees will keep the record open through the next few days, as the president-elect’s nominees run through the political gauntlet.