What was Tom Price thinking?

This Politico piece blows him up so thoroughly, I’m not sure there’s anything left to say. He chartered private jets for HHS-related travel five times in the last week alone, likely at an average cost of at least $12,000 per flight, when he could have easily flown commercial for some or all of them. The most ridiculous charter: A flight from D.C. to Philly, which only takes two to three hours to drive and may well have been faster than traveling to and from airports in both cities to use a plane. When Politico asked Obama’s HHS people if they’d ever felt obliged to use a charter, the only time they could recall doing so was when the secretary had to get to a remote part of Alaska. And that department was tasked with rolling out the ObamaCare exchanges across the country, remember. It’s not like their travel needs were any less pressing than Price’s.

As I write this on Wednesday morning, he and HHS haven’t even tried to justify the flights beyond a pro forma statement that “When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel.” The point of the story, though, is that commercial aircraft could have accommodated him. In at least one case, a *rental car* could have accommodated him. The only obvious conceivable excuse is that it wasn’t taxpayers who ended up footing the bill for the flights, it was someone else. But the groups Price visited last week during his trips say they didn’t pay for his travel. And Price, although a wealthy man, probably isn’t paying 20 grand a pop out of his own pocket to fly when he could be traveling in some cases for literally one one-hundredth the cost. If he was, you’d have expected him and HHS to have mentioned that immediately when the story broke.

Isn’t this guy a fiscal conservative? What the hell is he thinking? We would have feasted for days on a story about some entitled, out-of-touch bureaucrat jet-setting around the country on the taxpayer dime during the Obama era.

Current and former staffers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say Price has been taking private jets to travel domestically for months

“This wasteful conduct reflects disdain for the ethical principle of treating public service as a public trust,” said [former OGE chief Walter] Shaub, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. “Public office isn’t supposed to come with frivolous perks at taxpayer expense.”

Shaub said that the trips violate the “spirit” of the Federal Travel Regulations, citing the express guidance contained in the regulations that “taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation . . .”

Price’s travel itinerary last week included five charter flights that charter operators estimated would cost at least $60,000.

The flight from D.C. to Philly alone cost an estimated $25,000. By one reporter’s estimate, that’s literally 100 times what it would have cost to take Amtrak.

Democrats are coming after him now, predictably, as this story is gold for an opposition party eager to attack Trump’s populist cred. Trump himself appears to be completely immune to accusations that he takes advantage of the little guy notwithstanding the history of Trump University and the news as recently as yesterday of him using campaign funds to cover his Russiagate legal bills. I don’t know if Price and Steve Mnuchin, who’s been criticized for having initially requested the use of a government jet for his honeymoon, are as bulletproof as POTUS is. Democrats made a run at portraying Price as corrupt earlier this year due to questions over biotech investments he made, but financial scandals are hard for much of the public to follow. A government apparatchik chartering his own jet and sticking taxpayers with the tab is much easier.

Eh, it probably won’t matter. Price is a low-profile official publicly and partisan wagons will be circled around him if Trump gives the signal. His reputation as a fiscal watchdog will be singed, though, unless he has a good explanation for this. In fact, here’s a Price tweet from 2009 that’s making the rounds today:

Congress doesn’t but cabinet secretaries do — routinely? Again, what was he thinking?

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