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PRYCE, Deborah D.

PRYCE, Deborah D.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
1951–

Biography

First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992, Deborah Pryce rose through party leadership to become Republican Conference Chair a decade later, making her at the time the highest-ranking Republican woman in House history. As a member of the Financial Services Committee and as a Deputy Whip, Pryce drew on her background as a former judge and prosecutor to build consensus in the House. Her legislative interests ranged from consumer financial protection to housing to pediatric cancer and adoption law.1 “I think it made me a better Member to be on the inside,” Pryce noted of her approach to governing. “Information is the key to everything that’s done legislatively no matter where you are, and the sooner you know it, the stronger you are, and if you are discerning enough to know when to share it, the stronger you are. And I think it blended well with the person I am, maybe curious and maybe nibby, but I liked to be on the inside of the people part of the process.”2

Deborah Denine Pryce was born in Warren, Ohio, on July 29, 1951, to Richard and Ellen Pryce, both of whom were pharmacists. The eldest of five children, Pryce recalled the time she and her siblings spent alongside her parents at work. “We all grew up in the pharmacy, working and learning about our community and that business. It was a great work ethic, and I’m very glad that they instilled that into me because it was a wonderful way to grow up and gave me a sense of what America is all about.”3

Pryce graduated from Ohio State University in 1973 and received her law degree from Capital University Law School three years later. From 1976 to 1978, Pryce served as an administrative law judge for the Ohio state department of insurance. She worked as a prosecutor and municipal attorney for the city attorney’s office of Columbus from 1978 to 1985. Pryce served two terms as the presiding judge in the municipal court of Franklin County from 1985 to 1992. The resistance she faced when considering a run for presiding judge fueled her desire to win the campaign. “I was on the bench as a judge, and I wanted to run for that seat. Some of the men in the party had different ideas about who the candidate was going to be, and so they said, ‘No, you won’t, he will.’ And that got my blood boiling.”4

In 1980 Pryce married Randy Walker; they divorced in 2001. In 1990 the couple adopted a daughter, Caroline, who died from cancer in 1999. In Caroline’s memory Walker and Pryce founded Hope Street Kids, a nonprofit organization devoted to curing childhood cancer. In 2001 Pryce adopted a daughter, Mia.5

In 1992, when 13-term Republican Representative Chalmers Pangburn Wylie retired from the House, Pryce ran unopposed in the GOP primary to fill the seat. In a hard-fought, three-way general election in the district covering western Columbus and its outlying suburbs, Pryce prevailed with 44 percent of the vote. “It was a long road, and it was hard for me to campaign even though I had to run for office as a judge,” she admitted.6 Pryce was re-elected with comfortable margins to the six succeeding Congresses. In the 2006 elections, however, when Republicans lost their majority status for the first time in 12 years, Pryce had her closest race—defeating Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by a 50.2 to 49.7 margin.7

From the start of her House career, Pryce held positions in party leadership. Her colleagues—led by a group of moderates representing northeastern districts—elected Pryce Republican freshman-class president in 1993. The Ohio Congresswoman jokingly recalled thinking, “I don’t even know my way across the street; I can’t be the class president.”8 Pryce also was named to the Republican transition team in the following Congress, when Republicans gained control of the House for the first time in 40 years. She described the first 100 days of the 104th Congress (1995–1997) as “excruciating” for Members— especially mothers with children—because of the hectic schedule and heavy workload.9

Pryce became a Deputy Majority Whip for the Republican Party in 1996. Serving in the Whip operation allowed her to build important relationships with other Members that proved influential in her climb up the party leadership ladder. “I knew them, I knew about their families, I knew about their districts, I could talk to them about things other than just my personal ambitions,” she recalled.10 In 1998 GOP colleagues elected Pryce Secretary of the House Republican Conference, which is made up of every Republican in the House and oversees the organization and direction of the party. Pryce ran unopposed for the Republican Conference vice chair in 2000. In the race for Conference Chair for the 108th Congress (2003–2005) she defeated two opponents to become the highest-ranking woman in the Republican Party. “It was pretty close, but it was very hard fought,” she explained. “It was a very high honor to have been elected by my peers to chair the [Republican] Conference. It was the first time a woman had ever held that seat, and I was very grateful for all the support I got from the conference.”11 Pryce was re-elected GOP Conference Chair for the 109th Congress (2005–2007).12

Already at the forefront as an influential woman in her party, Pryce also stressed the importance of having a moderate Republican on the leadership team.13 During her two terms as conference chair, Pryce worked to keep her Republican colleagues united and on message. She likened her role to the leader of a large family. “But what I enjoyed the most was just once a week standing in front of that crew and … I felt like the mother hen really, honestly, to just kind of try to keep everybody calm and focused. It was great.”14

When Pryce first took her seat in the 103rd Congress (1993–1995), she received assignments on two committees: Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs; and Government Operations. As a lawyer and a judge, Pryce initially requested a spot on the Judiciary Committee believing it would fit well with her academic and professional background. But she supported abortion rights and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Henry John Hyde of Illinois, opposed abortion to such an extent that there was no room for a Member like Pryce on his committee. “I had no clue that abortion was one of the major issues and one of his very most important issues,” she later said.15 In the 104th Congress, Pryce left her initial assignments when she received a seat on the prestigious Rules Committee, which controls the flow of legislation in the House and sets the terms of debate. Aside from a brief stint on the Select Committee on Homeland Security in the 107th Congress (2001–2003), Pryce’s committee focus was on Rules. “The Rules Committee was fascinating because you don’t hear from any witnesses except for the Members,” Pryce observed. “The Members of Congress bring their legislation to the Rules Committee, explain what amendments they would like or not, and how much time they needed to debate them… . So it’s another opportunity for me to get to know the Members even better, and that served me very well when it came time for my election to the conference chairmanship.”16

In the 107th and 108th Congresses, she chaired the Legislative and Budget Process Subcommittee of the Rules Committee. In the 109th Congress, while Republicans still controlled the House, Pryce left the Rules Committee to accept a seat on the Financial Services Committee where she was the fourth-ranking Member. The move gave Pryce the opportunity to work on policy that directly affected major interests in her district, especially the prevalent banking and insurance industries. She chaired the Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology.17

Pryce focused her legislative efforts on issues that concerned children and health care. She authored the Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act in 1999, a law that boosted federal funding to investigate and prevent child abuse. Pryce tirelessly whipped support for the bill and urged her colleagues to help children without the means to defend themselves. “Abused children do not have a powerful voting block,” she said. “They do not have high-paid lobbyists in Washington to champion their cause. That is why we must take this initiative and work it together in a bipartisan fashion to continue the fight to protect our Nation’s children.” The bill became law in March of 2000.18 As the mother of two adopted children, she worked to ease transitional adoption practices for foster parents. Pryce also drafted the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001, which authorized the President to provide health and education assistance to women and children living in Afghanistan through nongovernmental organizations. A partner bill submitted by Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas in the Senate became law in December 2001.19

In addition to the creation of her own pediatric cancer research foundation, Pryce was a leading advocate of increasing federal money for cancer research and expanding access to clinical trials for cancer patients. She worked on the Patient Navigator, Outreach, and Chronic Disease Prevention Act of 2005, to help individuals in underserved communities overcome cultural, linguistic, and financial barriers to access the health system.20 After the death of her daughter, Pryce worked to pass the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, which encouraged pediatric cancer research through public health initiatives and grants. It was signed into law in 2008.21 “It definitely sprang from her death,” Pryce said, “but it also was a testament to how caring and how loving my colleagues were on both sides of the aisle. They came together to help me with this small piece of legislation but a piece that would never have passed without them.”22

From both the Rules and Financial Services Committees, Pryce authored key provisions to modernize the nation’s financial services industry and sponsored legislation to protect consumers’ personal and financial information. As chair of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Dome and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology, Pryce led efforts to overhaul the process by which foreign investments in the U.S. were reviewed by the federal government.23 A handful of Pryce’s bills which went through the Financial Services Committee passed the House and became law. In 2006, for instance, she led the push for a five-year reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which offers financial assistance to U.S. companies so they can ship and market their goods around the world. Pryce’s bill passed the House, but the Senate’s version of the legislation later became law.24

Pryce also worked on housing issues from her powerful seat on Financial Services. In September 2006 her Mark-to-Market Extension Act passed the House almost unanimously. The bill, which reauthorized a longstanding program, helped lower rental costs for people on governmental assistance while also providing ways to lessen mortgage burdens for property owners.25 Pryce also opened access to affordable housing and education for low-income Americans with disabilities. In the 109th Congress, she introduced H.R. 5117 which became law in July 2006. The act amended the Section 8 housing program, which provides families with vouchers to help lower the cost of rent. Existing law prevented college students from accessing Section 8 housing benefits, but Pryce’s legislation allowed Americans with disabilities to use the federal vouchers to help cover the cost of housing while in school. The bill was so popular that the Financial Services Committee held no hearings on Pryce’s proposal, and it passed the House by voice vote. The Senate later cleared it by unanimous consent.26

In August 2007, citing the difficulty of keeping up her hectic congressional schedule while being a single parent to her five-year-old daughter, Pryce announced her decision not to run for re-election in the fall of 2008.27 Pryce openly shared her disdain for the 2006 campaign where she spent more than $4.5 million in a competitive and often unpleasant race.28 “The hardest thing for me to have lived through was not the pain of the negative ads or the hard work of the campaign or the money I had to raise,” she conceded. “It was realizing how those millions were being spent. It was being spent the only way it could be to make me win and that was on negative ads. And when it was all said and done, I knew I would never, could never do that again.”29 Her House career ended at the conclusion of the 110th Congress (2007–2009) on January 3, 2009. In 2011 Ohio Governor John Richard Kasich appointed Pryce to a 12-year term as chair of the Ohio liquor control commission. She also serves as a principal for an Ohio law firm.30

Footnotes

1Amy Borrus, “Is the Day of the Hothead Over?: The GOP Pols to Watch as Gingrich Moves to the Center,” 8 September 1997, Business Week: 72.

2“The Honorable Deborah D. Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (9 August 2018): 18–19. The interview transcript is available online.

3“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 1.

4“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 3.

5Jeffrey W. Thomas, “Deborah Pryce Papers: RG: 57/d, Descriptive Finding Aid and Box and Folder Inventory,” Ohio Congressional Archives (Columbus: Ohio State University, 2010): 2; “Deborah Pryce,” Center for Women and Politics of Ohio, Baldwin Wallace University, accessed 4 November 2019, https://www.bw.edu/centers/women-and-politics-of-ohio/bios/05-prycedeborah; “Rep. Pryce and Husband Divorcing,” 27 December 2001, Midland Daily News (MI): n.p.; Deborah Pryce, “The Congresswoman and Childhood Cancer,” 25 May 2011, Working Mother: n.p.

6“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 5.

7“Deborah Pryce,” Center for Women and Politics of Ohio; Thomas, “Deborah Pryce Papers”: 2; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

8“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 11.

9“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 12.

10“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 20.

11“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 21.

12Pryce, “The Congresswoman and Childhood Cancer”; “Deborah Pryce,” Center for Women and Politics of Ohio; Thomas, “Deborah Pryce Papers”: 2.

13“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 21.

14“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 24; “Congresswoman Deborah Pryce Elected Chairman of House Republican Conference,” 13 November 2002, U.S. Newswire.

15“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 25–26.

16“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 36.

17Thomas, “Deborah Pryce Papers”: 2–3.

18Congressional Record, House, 106th Cong., 1st sess. (29 April 1999): 7882; Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act, PL 106-177, 114 Stat. 35 (2000).

19Afghan Women and Children Relief Act, H.R. 3330, 107th Cong. (2001); Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001, PL 107-81, 115 Stat. 811 (2001).

20“Biography,” official website of Representative Deborah Pryce, 30 June 2006, https://web.archive.org/web/20060630230317/http://www.house.gov/pryce/ biography.htm; Thomas, “Deborah Pryce Papers”: 3; Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 811–812.

21“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 33–34; Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, PL 110-285, 122 Stat. 2628 (2008).

22“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 34.

23Derek Willis, “Rep. Deborah Pryce,” 28 December 2002, CQ Weekly: 58; “Deborah Pryce,” Associated Press Candidate Biographies, 2004.

24Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act of 2006, H.R. 5068, 109th Cong. (2006); House Committee on Financial Services, Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act of 2006, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., H. Rept. 566 (2006): 14; Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act of 2006, PL 109-438, 120 Stat. 3268 (2006).

25Mark-to-Market Extension Act, H.R. 6115, 109th Cong. (2006).

26To exempt persons with disabilities from the prohibition against providing Section 8 rental assistance to college students, PL 109-249, 120 Stat. 651 (2006); Committee on Financial Services, To exempt persons with disabilities from the prohibition against providing section 8 rental assistance to college students, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., H. Rept. 500 (2006): 2.

27Eric Pfeiffer, “Ohio Republican Lawmaker Pryce to Retire,” 17 August 2007, Washington Times: A5; John McCarthy, “Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio to Retire, Boosting Democrats’ Hopes in the Midwest,” 16 August 2007, Associated Press; Jessica Wehrman, “Pryce Tired of Life on the Tightrope,” 20 August 2007, Dayton Daily News (OH): A4.

28Carl Hulse, “For Retiring Republicans, Several Explanations,” 30 October 2007, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/ washington/30cong.html.

29“Pryce Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 42; David Brooks, “A Still, Small Voice,” 16 October 2007, New York Times, https://www.nytimes. com/2007/10/16/opinion/16brooks.html.

30“Deborah D. Pryce,” Ice Miller Legal Counsel, accessed 4 November 2019, https://www.icemiller.com/people/deborah-d-pryce/.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

The Ohio State University Libraries
Ohio Congressional Archives

Columbus, OH
Papers: 1985-2008, 80 cubic feet and 100 gigabytes. The collection documents the 16-year public service career of Deborah Pryce (R-Upper Arlington) as a congresswoman in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 15th District of Ohio. The majority of materials in the collection were compiled by the Washington, D.C. and district offices of Congresswoman Pryce. Campaign materials within the collection were compiled by her campaign committees. In addition, the collection contains records of the House Republican Conference, dating from 1998 to 2006, compiled during Congresswoman Pryce’s tenure as secretary, vice-chair, then chair of the conference. A finding aid is available in the repository and online.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Deborah D. Pryce" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs
  • House Committee - Financial Services
    • Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology - Chair
  • House Committee - Government Operations
  • House Committee - Rules
    • Legislative and Budget Process - Chair
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Related Media

Legal Background

The Honorable Deborah D. Pryce explains how her background as a lawyer and a judge helped her as a Member of Congress.

The Honorable Deborah D. Pryce, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded August 9, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Impact of Being a Mother in Congress

The Honorable Deborah D. Pryce talks about how being a mother influenced her role as a legislator.

The Honorable Deborah D. Pryce, U.S. Representative of Ohio
Interview recorded August 9, 2018 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)