Isnâ€™t it nice for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that his ascension to President Donald Trumpâ€™s Cabinet afforded him the luxury to fly around the country using private planes and bill it all to American taxpayers? To a Georgia resort (where he owns property). To Tennessee (where he joined his son for lunch). All at no cost to himself. Public service sure is grand!
Itâ€™s hard to think of someone in Washington these days who might rival Price for brazen hypocrisy, though, admittedly, the bar is high. This is the very same Price, remember, who, as a congressman from Georgia for the past 12 years, piously condemned the federal governmentâ€™s â€śreckless spending.â€ť
Now it turns out that Price is as spendthrift a swamp creature as you could find in Washingtonâ€™s marshy environs. A richly detailed report in Politico, which has documented Priceâ€™s more than two dozen flights on private aircraft since May, at a cost of some $300,000, paints a picture of a man whose personal travel agenda coexisted with his public one, and in some cases may have topped it.
On a trip to Nashville, for instance, he spent nearly $18,000 for a Learjet, according to Politico, â€świth only two official visits on his calendar - an hourlong tour of [a medication] dispensary and a 20-minute speech - that bookended his lunch with his son.â€ť In all, Price spent less than six hours in the city, during which it seems likely that his longest engagement was the lunch.
The secretaryâ€™s jet-setting at public expense, or at least the universal distaste it aroused, proved too much even for Trump, whose own ethical standards are not renowned for their Olympian heights. Trump, speaking to reporters, allowed that he is â€śnot happyâ€ť with Price. Asked if the secretary would retain his position, the president ominously replied, â€śWeâ€™ll see.â€ť
As weâ€™re waiting, hereâ€™s a thought for Price: Why not repay American taxpayers the funds you have squandered on these jaunts? In many or most cases, commercial flights to his destinations, departing at roughly the same time, were available. His predecessors made do with them, as generally do other Cabinet secretaries when traveling domestically.
Priceâ€™s risible excuse is that he was too busy with his official obligations to fly commercial. In fact, he was too self-important, a familiar trait in Washington for which he is nonetheless vying to set a new standard. Congress is now asking questions about Priceâ€™s jet-setting, and the inspector general at HHS has launched an investigation. Letâ€™s hope those probes result in something resembling real accountability.