Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price once remarked that "tough choices" must be made to reduce "waste" in government spending. Apparently, in Price's mind, frequent and lavish private flights don't qualify as wasteful spending, but programs that provide life-saving healthcare to millions of Americans do.
"HHS won't pay for Obamacare enrollment but they have plenty of cash for Secretary Price's private jet lifestyle."
—Adam Smith, Every VoiceAccording to a Politico report Tuesday, Price "last week took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel." Based on sample flight rates, the cost for Price to fly commercial would have been somewhere between $400 and $725—as opposed to $25,000 to charter a jet for a short trip from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia and back.
Price's aversion to commercial flights constitutes a "sharp departure" from the travel habits of the HHS secretary's predecessors, who would only fly private on rare occasions—for instance, "to get to remote areas in Alaska," Politico's Dan Diamond and Rachana Pradhan observe.
Politico goes on to detail Price's travel schedule, noting that it fits with a pattern of Trump officials taking advantage of taxpayer dollars to charter private planes.
The secretary's five flights, which were scheduled between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, took him to a resort in Maine where he participated in a Q&A discussion with a health care industry CEO, and to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, according to internal HHS documents.
The travel by corporate-style jet comes at a time when other members of the Trump administration are under fire for travel expenditures, and breaks with the practices of Obama-era Secretaries Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially while in the continental United States.
When the Senate GOP unveiled their first Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal bill, Price made multiple television appearances to defend the proposed cuts to Medicaid, which critics argued would "gouge poor people."
Price, however, declined to respond to Politico's reporting Tuesday, relying on an HHS spokesperson to declare that the secretary's "mission [is] to enhance and protect the health and well-being of the American people."
"First Mnuchin, now Tom Price. The Trump Cabinet has a big problem charging taxpayers for private flights."
—Ben White, Politico
As the GOP gears up for one more "brutal and deadly" ACA repeal attempt, many commentators scoffed at the notion that Price cares about the health of the public.
"HHS won't pay for Obamacare enrollment but they have plenty of cash for Secretary Price's private jet lifestyle," noted Adam Smith, communications director for the advocacy group Every Voice, on Twitter.
Walter Shaub, former head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), denounced Price's "wasteful conduct," in an interview with Politico, and said it "reflects disdain for the ethical principle of treating public service as a public trust."
"Public office isn’t supposed to come with frivolous perks at taxpayer expense," Shaub concluded.
Many others also took aim at Price's affinity for corporate jets, particularly as he enthusiastically supports inflicting deep cuts to Medicaid, a program that insures over 70 million Americans.
Medicaid slasher Tom Price is taking chartered government flights from DC to goddamn Philly https://t.co/tyCZJbmAcG
— ryan cooper (@ryanlcooper) September 20, 2017
Thousands of dollars on private jets? No problem!
Funding for Americans to stay insured and healthy? Absolutely not! https://t.co/xviXZBpIsA
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) September 20, 2017
KILL THE POORS SO TOM PRICE CAN FLY ON PRIVATE JETS TO MEET WITH PEOPLE IN THE BUSINESS OF KILLING THE POORS. https://t.co/xJeBsHNvws
— Winnie Wong (@WaywardWinifred) September 20, 2017
— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) September 20, 2017
Pigs at the trough. https://t.co/QKB7NJrer2
— Schooley (@Rschooley) September 20, 2017
"How can I dismantle health care while on a $20,000 charter flight for a 135 mile trip?" - Tom Price https://t.co/v3u79M7mnm
— Katie Reece-Spencer (@KReeceSpencer) September 20, 2017