It has been argued with some validity that budgets are moral documents, as the priorities they outline reveal the values of the political figures who draft, debate, and enact them. And if this is the case then, surely, presidential cabinets must be understood as moral constructs, as the men and women who are nominated reveal not just the personalities but the values that will guide the incoming administration.
Yet debates about cabinet picks often fail to reflect on the moral values of the nominees and the agendas they advance. That’s unfortunate, because those who propose to guide a government should be forced to confront the morality—and the immorality—of their own choices.
The process by which senators offer their advice and consent with regard to cabinet nominations should weigh those choices, and the policies that extend from them. But only a few legislators are genuinely willing to hold nominees to account on fundamental matters of right and wrong.
That is why the questioning by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as secretary of health and human services, Georgia Congressman Tom Price, was so vital.
Price is an indefensible pick for an essential position. A longtime lackey of health-care industry profiteers, whose own investments are now the subject of scrutiny, the congressman has made it his mission to shred not just the Affordable Care Act but the whole of the safety net that provides what minimal protections are available to low-income Americans, working families, people with disabilities, and retirees. “If confirmed,” argue leaders of the National Nurses United health-care union, “it is clear that Rep. Price will pursue policies that substantially erode our nation’s health and security—eliminating health coverage, reducing access, shifting more costs to working people and their families, and throwing our most sick and vulnerable fellow Americans at the mercy of the health-care industry,”
But Price is also a political careerist, with carefully crafted answers that are designed to cloak real intents and muddle the discourse. He can usually spin his way out of trouble.
Bernie Sanders was not about to be spun.
In his questioning of the nominee during Wednesday’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, the senator pressed Price to answer fundamental questions—and to address fundamental conflicts between the slick rhetoric of cabinet nominees and the painful reality of the policies they propose: