Tom Price's tab so far: At least 24 private jet flights, more than $300,000 to taxpayers

He took office at HHS in early February, which means he’s averaging more than $1,000 on airfare at taxpayer expense — per day.

The most amazing detail in this story is that he took another charter flight the day after Politico dropped this bomb on him earlier this week. You would think all private jet trips would have been canceled immediately afterward. Nope.

Serious question: Is Trump going to cut him loose if Graham-Cassidy fails? If it passes the GOP will suddenly be faced with a million implementation headaches in transitioning the health insurance system from ObamaCare to the new federalist regime. The White House will be understandably reluctant to let Price go in the middle of that. If it doesn’t pass, though, and health-care reform looks well and truly dead for the foreseeable future, Price might end up getting the treatment Jeff Sessions didn’t quite get, namely, leaving a de facto lifetime appointment in Congress for an administration job that didn’t last a year.

After a POLITICO investigation identified five private flights that Price took up and down the East Coast last week, Price took a charter jet to Oklahoma on Tuesday of this week, Sept. 19, where he met with Native American tribes and toured health care facilities by car — although HHS initially explored flying him by charter around the state, two people with knowledge of Price’s travels said. “There was a push from political [staff] at HHS to fly him and not drive him to these small communities,” said one of the people…

Price’s frequent trips around the country have rankled staff inside the White House, with a senior official saying many trips aren’t related to priorities like Obamacare repeal and other items on the president’s agenda. While Price has flown to Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania since last Wednesday, President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have been frantically rallying support to pass an Obamacare repeal bill by Sept. 30. After that date, the GOP will need 60 Senate votes, not 50, to overturn the 2010 health law.

“No one is quite sure what [Price] is doing,” a senior White House official said. “You look at this week, we’re doing a last final push trying to get this over the finish line, and he’s nowhere to be found.”

If he’s not needed on the Hill to help sell repeal this week of all weeks, how irreplaceable is he, really?

His spokesman noted that his schedule’s been extra demanding lately since he has a role in hurricane recovery. Right, but most of the charter flights happened before the hurricanes struck. Not all of them have been related to repealing ObamaCare either, as noted in the excerpt; many apparently have been related to the opioid crisis, a serious matter but not a “gotta get there overnight, spare no expense” emergency. His spokesman also claimed that he’s been “hearing from Americans across the country” but not all of these flights have had to do with middle-America listening tours. One flight was from San Diego to … the Aspen Ideas Festival, among the most chichi events in American politics. Taxpayers likely paid more than seven grand for that trip even though it was scheduled long in advance and would have cost a tenth as much on a commercial flight.

Read the whole piece, as Politico knifes him at the end by noting a $50,000+ multi-stop trip in which he lectured on wasteful health-care spending in government, ahem. Needless to say, this is an especially bad look at a moment when the GOP’s last shot at repeal involves rolling back Medicaid for the poor under ObamaCare by several hundred billion dollars. Some Price defenders have suggested that the private jet flights aren’t a matter of luxury or convenience so much as a matter of safety: Liberals hate the Trump administration and they *really* hate the top health-care guy at a moment when Republicans are trying to nuke Obama’s legacy, so Price needs to sequester himself on private jets for his own protection. No one in the government is making that claim, though, including Price’s own team, which you’d expect if there was any truth to it. And if it were true, good luck explaining how a $20,000 flight is more cost-effective than assigning him a pair of U.S. Marshals or Secret Service, or even private bodyguards, to accompany him for a day of commercial travel.

One last point, since we’re talking about abuse of private jets by cabinet members. The AP’s trying to piggyback on Politico’s hit on Price with this story, which to the casual observer would suggest a troubling pattern of fleecing taxpayers by top Trump admin officials:

Read past the misleading headline, though, and you’ll see that DeVos, who’s fabulously rich, picks up the tab for her own private jet travel. She’s actually saving taxpayers a bit of money by paying for her own transportation. Even some Democrats called out the AP for that obvious smear.

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David Strom 12:01 PM on October 07, 2022