A physician from Georgia is in the running Wednesday for the fourth-highest leadership post within the House Republican Conference.
Rep. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon who was recently re-elected to serve Georgia's 6th District, is in a tight race to serve as House Republican Conference chairman. He is running against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington's 5th District who serves as the Republican Conference's vice chairwoman. First elected in 2004, she is also the only woman and youngest member of the elected House Republican leadership.
The position is up for grabs because Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the conference chairman, is expected to take over as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Previous Republican conference chairmen include former President Gerald Ford, former Vice President Dick Cheney (R-Wyo.) and current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Dan Boston, executive vice president of the Washington consulting firm Health Policy Source, says the role is an important one, because it's viewed as a megaphone for the conference.
“The main thing is, it's the principal communications arm for the broader conference,” Boston says, adding that responsibilities include placing opinions and editorials at various news outlets and in congressional districts. “From a leadership standpoint, they help message to the broader caucus and to the world.”
Boston says both members would bring different strengths to the role, as Price is well-regarded for his knowledge of internal issues, while McMorris Rodgers is respected for the public role she has played. In August, the 43-year-old McMorris Rodgers—whose family owns and operates the Peach Crest Fruit Basket orchard and fruit stand in Kettle Falls, Wash.—was a speaker at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Also first elected in 2004, Price serves as the House Republican Policy Committee chairman, the conference's fifth-highest level post. Both members are also on committees with jurisdiction over healthcare, with Price serving on the Ways and Means Committee and McMorris Rodgers serving on Energy and Commerce.
Price has the support of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), as well as House Budget Committee Chairman and former GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “No one will work harder than Congressman Price at building a strong and compelling communications and policy strategy that reflects the will of our membership and the needs of the nation,” Ryan wrote in a letter to colleagues.
But the healthcare industry shouldn't expect healthcare issues to get more attention if Price wins.
“The issues are what the issues are,” Boston said. “I don't think because someone may or may not be a physician gives them any greater standing in the conference,” he continued, adding that the flawed sustainable growth-rate formula used for Medicare physician payments has vexed policymakers for about a decade now.
As for Price's view on the role and what it means, he'd rather keep that within the confines of the party.
“As Chairman Price has always said, he believes this decision should be made through discussion and consultation with his colleagues, not through the press,” the Georgia Republican's press team said in an e-mail Tuesday. “Despite there being interest to conduct this campaign in the media, out of respect for his fellow members, (Price) is focusing his efforts instead on one-on-one conversations with them and developing a real plan of positive, principled solutions for our conference.”
Returning and newly elected members of Congress will vote in the leadership election Wednesday for all of the conference's elected positions.