Is the Trump administration working on its own Affordable Care Act legislation? Is Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price, involved in writing it? Does anyone know what is going on, at all? The answer to all three of these questions is no, and Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing for Price offered few further answers.
It did prompt some knowing laughter within the room, however, about the very funny reality of our president being a pathological liar.
Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, during his questioning time, asked Price whether it was true that “President Trump said he is working with you on a replacement plan for the ACA, which is nearly finished and will be revealed after your confirmation.”
“It’s true that he said that, yes,” Price responded. The room laughed, and Price allowed himself a grin.
Brown was taken aback. “Not that he has ever done this before, but did the president lie?” Brown said. “Did the president lie about this, that he’s not working with you? He said he’s working with you, is that—I know we don’t use the word here, because we’re polite when presidents say statements that aren’t true—but did he lie to the public about working with you?”
“I’ve had conversations with the president about health care, yes,” Price, still grinning a bit, said.
“Which wasn’t quite the answer,” Brown said. He then tried to continue with the question he was going to ask about whether the Trump-Price plan would retain important protections from the Affordable Care Act. Price gave his canned answer: “Our commitment is to make certain that every single American has access to the highest quality coverage and care possible.”
Brown didn’t challenge the canned answer, as his mind was clearly elsewhere. “I’m still not sure if the president lied, not to you, but to us, the public, about whether he’s actually working with you,” Brown said, “but it sounds like he did.”
The exchange was bizarre for several reasons. Most obviously, and what prompted the laughter, was the rare, implicit acknowledgement from a well-coached Cabinet nominee that the president he’d be serving either has no clue what he’s talking about, or just lies.
But it’s also not clear that Trump ever did say he was working on a replacement plan with Price. The quote I believe Brown was referring to came during Trump’s Jan. 11 press conference. “We’re going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary is approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan,” Trump said. “It’ll be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously.” He never said that he’s working with Price. In fact, a CNN report last week said that Price “has been kept out of the Trump transition team’s efforts to craft an Obamacare replacement plan” until confirmed because “the incoming administration wants Price to be inoculated from questions about what Trump’s alternative to the Affordable Care Act looks like when he faces probing senators.”
The lie that may rest beneath all of this is that the Trump administration is working on a separate replacement plan at all. As Yuval Levin wrote in National Review following Trump’s later interview in which he promised “insurance for everybody,” “the conservative health-care universe, including some people on Trump’s own team, quickly concluded that the separate administration plan he described was entirely a figment of Trump’s imagination.”
Price must be having just as much trouble keeping up as the rest of us are.