Opinion: Tom Price flew a little too high, a little too often

The interior of a Lear-60 executive jet, which Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price chartered to fly from San Diego to the “Aspen Ideas Festival” in Aspen, Colo. It is one of 27 such flights uncovered so far.

I don’t know if Tom Price will be fired as head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

I do know that he deserves to be.

Back in his days as a Georgia congressman, Price had lectured incessantly and sanctimoniously about the evils of government spending in general, and more specifically about the use of private jets by government officials who thought they were too good to fly commercial. That sort of hectoring and public penny-pinching became part of Price’s persona, helping in his rise to chair of the powerful House Budget Committee, where he repeatedly proposed massive cuts to social programs aiding the poor, the elderly and the ill.

Yet when Price was named to a Cabinet position and the opportunity arose to pamper himself at taxpayer’s expense, his sense of personal entitlement was apparently too strong to resist.

Initially, when it was reported by Politico that Price had taken five trips on chartered executive planes, his office tried to explain the flights as a temporary measure made necessary by a hectic schedule as Price tried to respond to repeated hurricanes. That sounded plausible, except for the fact that the trips in question were to Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, none of which had been hit by hurricanes.

In addition, cheap commercial flights were readily available to all of those locations, but were apparently deemed beneath the secretary’s dignity. (Previous holders of his job have flown almost exclusively commercial, and government policy calls for use of commercial flights whenever possible.)

A little deeper digging uncovered the fact that Price had taken an additional 17 such chartered flights, all before the hurricanes even developed, including a trip on a Learjet-60 from San Diego to Aspen, Colo.. At that point, the spin out of Price’s office took on the intensity of a Category Five hurricane.

“This is Secretary Price, getting outside of D.C., making sure he is connected with the real American people,” his spokesperson explained.

You almost have to admire the chutzpah and imagination needed to defend private luxury jets as a way of staying in touch with “real Americans.” If you want to rub elbows, knees and shoulders with “real Americans,” then you should fly commercial, and by commercial I mean coach.

The latest round of reporting is the most damaging yet. The number of chartered flights since February is now up to 27; the estimated total cost has risen to more than $400,000. According to Politico, the list includes at least two expensive chartered flights to locations where Price’s “work responsibilities” were at best minimal, but where — just by accident, of course — he either owned property or had family to visit.

In one trip, Price took a Learjet from Washington to Nashville at a cost of almost $18,000, where he toured a medical dispensary for an hour and spoke briefly to a health-care meeting. The rest of his 5.5 hours on the ground in Nashville was spent visiting and having lunch with his son, who lives there.

In another, Price and his wife took a taxpayer-funded chartered flight to Brunswick, near St. Simons, where they own property. They spent the next two days — a weekend — on the island, and during those two days Price’s official duties consisted of a one-hour speech to the Medical Association of Georgia.

And of course, this isn’t the first time that Price has acted out of a seeming sense of entitlement. As a powerful congressman with a background as a physician, he exercised significant influence over the nation’s health-care policy, which in turn led to his appointment as HHS secretary. As the Wall Street Journal reported, during that time Price also invested more than $300,000 in health-care and pharmaceutical companies whose stock price could have been affected by his actions.

Price has claimed those investments were perfectly legal, but a public servant with a more highly developed sense of ethics would have declined to invest in areas where he had such influence, and where concerns of conflicts of interest were so obvious.

Price is not such a person. I’ve covered him for more than 20 years now, since his days back in the Georgia Legislature, and none of this surprises me. He was known back then on both sides of the aisle as someone who was smart, highly ambitious and very much out for himself, and that hasn’t changed.

Earlier today, however, President Trump was asked what he thought about his gallivanting, high-flying HHS secretary.

“I will tell you, personally, I’m not happy about it,” Trump told reporters. “I’m going to look at it. I’m not happy about it, and I will let him know it.”

Asked if he intends to fire Price, Trump said “We’ll see.”

 

Reader Comments 0

1098 comments
38 year navy vet
38 year navy vet

SEC Price is suppose to manage a $1.3 trillion budget, 65,000 employees, three hurricanes, Healthcare legislation and an opioid crisis and the Press thinks he should always take public transportation along with his security detail? We expect him to be everywhere, anytime and be effective and efficient! This witch hunt is ridiculous. I guess billionaires like SEC Betsy DeVos who are able to furnish their own private jets are our only options as cabinet members.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

Free Kneeling Conference tomorrow in Midtown, combined with Save the Whales march, lunch of recycled cardboard and City tap water will be furnished

BarbaraDenkman
BarbaraDenkman

We were at a performance of "Walk the Line" by the Georgia Ensemble Theater at the Chattahoochee Nature Center in late July.  Our esteemed Secretary was there and, in fact, won a prize for one of the best decorated tables.  I wondered then if he had flown to Atlanta in a private jet - maybe on his way to his coastal property.  His arrogance is in line with the majority of Trump's selections.  Some of Trump's appointments are scary for the beliefs they espouse.  I live in a divided household - my husband voted for Trump; I did not, nor would I ever have considered doing so.

DavidATL45
DavidATL45

Typical of the type of hacks Trump nominated for his Cabinet.  Arrogant jerks.  

Kathy
Kathy

Deplorable! A great example of millionaires who flagrantly spend the taxpayers money while voting cuts in programs that benefits the most fragile citizens in this country.  I'm  not surprised that he'll be allowed to get away with this bad behavior. Surely, we need an overhaul in the Ethics laws, not less of them.


Citizen-of-the-World
Citizen-of-the-World

Price never should have been confirmed for HHS secretary anyway. Price was/is utterly compromised and has a shameful record of self-serving decision making. The Senate failed in its duty to the American people by not throwing out his nomination and demanding Trump propose a better candidate. 


Mayretta J. Slobberknock
Mayretta J. Slobberknock

Having flown a bit on corporate jets, I can report: The attraction is avoiding lines and waiting around. The only regular folks I encountered worked in the terminal.

Mayretta J. Slobberknock
Mayretta J. Slobberknock

Also, operating the jet costs per hour many times what a roundtrip commercial ticket would.

Mary
Mary

Ok, off to the ATL traffic and the rat race. Not gonna complain about anything today. See if I can create some positive energy around me today.

Good day to you all. And, with good intentions only: I Love America!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

These are good questions Mary's asked.


Will pride and respect of our country be so watered down that we no longer recognize sacrfice and honor?

Questions and concerns from a mom that ponders over the future of two small ones.


Pride and respect of our country should be earned, not imposed. I didn't ask for this flag-fapping, but since it's here, our little rituals are being held under a microscope. 

It's nothing to do with "watering down" pride and respect--it's either there or it isn't, it's not bound to whether or not we happen to devote a minute of our time to listening to an old song while looking at our flag.

As for what how pride and respect will be expressed when your kids are ten years older, I would hope that it will be in some tribute to the positive aspects of our history, including our ability to learn from our mistakes and to grow as a nation.

Picking a more appropriate song to express this pride and respect isn't atop my priority list, but it's certainly a nice-to-have.


/ranty McSoapbox

Mary
Mary

I dunno, to some large extent, I'm a big believer in we are a "product of our environent". I'm quite sure that my parents, grandparents and older siblings helped shape my closely held honor and pride I feel when hearing the NA.

I went to a large college in a neighboring state. This stuff is not new. I recall 15 years ago as a student standing for the NA on a Saturday afternoon while several around us did not bother to stand. That stuck with me.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@Visual_Cortex If we forget the process in spite of missteps that we have gone through to build America to one of the most free Countries the World has ever seen and one that provides overall the best opportunities to ALL its citizens, then we are doomed to go the route of Rome and once gone, it will be lost forever.    

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Mary

when hearing the NA.

Did you ever stop to think about what the words to that song mean? Did you ever wonder why we willingly chose to glorify war and violence?

I suspect not; I suspect this may be the first time you've been asked to do so, and I can understand why it may be uncomfortable.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Mary

and by "the words" I'm talking about the commonly sung first stanza. I'm setting aside the third one which, at BEST, is just gratuitous trash-talking, and at worst repellent white supremacy. 

I'll grant that prior to last year hardly anyone even read beyond that first verse, let alone listened to or actually sang it in public.


Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Infraredguy @Visual_Cortex

Who is proposing we forget "the process in spite of missteps"?

You aren't, I hope, referring to the tributes to the old Confederacy that were erected at a time when Jim Crow was ascendant and such mass-produced statuary was clearly intended to tell Blacks (and their allies) to "know their place", are you?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Speaking of humor, the challenge still stands--has anyone seen Donald Trump actually laugh?

Smirk, snicker? sure. But the dude can't laugh. It's truly bizarre and seems as clear a tell of mental illness as any I can imagine.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Someone linked to a story about this poll earlier:

https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2487

Setting aside all the Can You Believe the Multiple Ways The Public Hates Trump stuff, here's a figure I found interesting:

The anti-Twitter sentiment remains high as voters say 69 - 26 percent that Trump should stop tweeting.

Mrs. VC had a real good take on this, and I couldn't agree more. She says that she wants Trump to go on Tweeting, that we should be glad that we can know his every petty, ignorant, foolish thought in real-time.

This is true. Furthermore, you'll note that the line "I do wish he'd stop Tweeting" or suchlike is almost always uttered by Republicans. It's the acceptable-criticism-of-Trump line; it's the one area in which you're allowed to sound like you're one of the reasonable ones.

So screw that. 

Be happy our dotty old Fox News-watching gasbag continues to Tweet.

Peachs
Peachs

@Visual_Cortex I think Moore is going to be fun! You got all these polyesters telling us they aren't bigots, and now this smelly thing from Alabama is going to be the southern fried Archie Bunker of the senate.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Peachs @Visual_Cortex

I'd like to join you but I just can't see much upside to conferring Senatorial status--i.e., as much power as one American can have outside of, perhaps, SCOTUS justice or President--to an out-and-proud stone cold bigot, who is a hero to millions of other out-and-proud stone cold bigots.

He's a public menace and needs to be eliminated with extreme prejudice.

Mary
Mary

What I found interesting from the poll was the majority still does not want dems to control Congress. So, for all the dislike for Trump, and believe me I get it, the question why America rejects the dems is a larger question.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Mary

Well, to nitpick, the poll has 47% saying they want Dem control, so I'd imagine probably 10% or thereabouts are like "meh."

That's not exactly a "rejection". That tells me that (surprise!) the dems have done a crap job of marketing themselves to the public at large. If they want to have any hope for midterm victory they have to have a national message, a reason to vote Dem.

I'm not real optimistic they will; I can't recall any midterm where I had the foggiest idea of what the DNC were actually offering to voters, nationally.

BPeabody
BPeabody

@Mary  I suspect that a lot of that rejection has to do with the Voices of the Right (Fox, et al) painting Dems, liberals, and any others as America-hating, amoral snowflakes, bereft of decency and common sense.  This contributes to their own sense of superiority, and to the notion that voices outside of the Chamber aren't worthy of being heard.


Peachs
Peachs

One thing totally missing in this polyester world is humor from the common man. I watch Rudy G. and Trump at one of those dinners in tuxedos, and they looked like the blood has been drained from their faces.

Hillary had no real humor either. O was funny, living in a house of women will make you that way. I know..

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Peachs

Hillary had no real humor either. 

If you're talking about the kind of stage presence you got from a brilliant orator like Obama where he could go from deadly serious to A-list standup comedy within a stump speech, you're right. Hils was never someone who looked like she couldn't wait to get on stage.

However she (like Al Gore, actually) is funny as hell in more relaxed settings, particularly in one-on-one interviews. We didn't see a lot of that in 2016, unfortunately.

Peachs
Peachs

@Visual_Cortex @Peachs takes herself and Gore is the same, too seriously. That is why I say a dozen women in a household will cure that ego real fast.

DavidATL45
DavidATL45

@Peachs  I think we all saw the kind of humor Trump's "common man" has when he retweeted the gif of Trump hitting a golf ball that in turn hit a look-like Hillary entering a plane.  The bigots laughed and laughed.  Then went into their churches and prayed for protection from Christiaity-haters.  That's the Trump "common man" humor. 

omark
omark

If Price really wanted to get in touch with Trump voters he'd pack a brown bag lunch, and go Greyhound.

Peachs
Peachs

@omark People use to go into politics, ministry, and coaching for the calling not to get rich. Now it is a selfish career path, a ego trip. And you have people in poor places like Ga. who worship these people, and copy their lack of character. 

Bobby Dodd was a joy, he played tennis every day at a public tennis court, wore a coat and tie on the sideline, and was an example of how to live a life. Where did these type people go?

Mary
Mary

Baby boomer men became sissies and they begot bigger sissies.

Mary
Mary

Where does the hoppla over Trump and the NA end? Will there be winners and losers? Or, is the only loser going to be our next generation? What will my 6 and 3 year old hear from our leaders 10 years from now?

Will pride and respect of our country be so watered down that we no longer recognize sacrfice and honor?

Questions and concerns from a mom that ponders over the future of two small ones.

Just saw on the news a youth football league has now banned the NA. My God!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Mary

Where does the hoppla over Trump and the NA end?

Honestly, when Trump stops yammering about it. This is almost entirely of his making, remember; he was supposed to give a rousing endorsement of his primary candidate, and he chose to play another card instead.

Probably because he knew Moore was likely to win, and he didn't want to focus attention on the stated reason for the appearance.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Mary

By the way, focusing all this attention on the NA is probably on balance a good thing. The NA needed some more attention paid to it. The lyrics are highly problematic, and its reason for being a NA in the first place over other, less violent and overtly racist patriotic songs was probably overdue for a re-evaluation anyway.

Mary
Mary

Well, I think our country is way to hypersensitive to "words".

It just seems so unrealistic that we need to scrub words that tends to hurt some peoples feelings. I get that certain words, symbols are problematic. But, who decides what our NA should say?

Honestly, if the NA offends a person, yet they have no problem with the words and behavior of some of our entertainers and community leaders, I tune you out.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Mary

 who decides what our NA should say?

In this case, it was Congress, and a republican President (Hoover) signed it into law.

Just another political act, really.

Peachs
Peachs

You want to see incompetence put a camera on Handel and you will see what we call a congressman in this district. Price obviously was one of the unvetted and now Handel has gone invisible. You don't see these people or hear from this once they are on the gravy train. Run with a R by your name, disappear and show up years later in Washington swimming drunk in some fountain on the way to your lear jet. 

omark
omark

Republicans are only deficit hawks when Democrats are in power. Right now they're in party mode.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@omark

Kinda. The deficit scolds will always be with us, but Republicans keep it in reserve for bashing the Poors only.

Never to keep tax cuts in check and certainly NEVER to insist upon a rational to war-machine spending.

Peachs
Peachs

@omark they don't create, they are good at reacting to others but can't fix problems themselves. They start calling Bill, Bob and next thing you know the whole world thinks Bill's name is Bob.They can't get their facts right.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Mornin. So is this place still the Island of Lost Flag-Fappers? Guess I'll have a scroll back to see... 

Peachs
Peachs

"The Trump administration’s plan depends on the discredited notion that tax cuts for the rich will help everyone."

You want to go right to the heart of the American problem, there is no space for the middle class in politics. Guys like Price can't be middle class and be happy, he needs to move up to first class on someone's expense account not by his own actions.

carterjoseph1950
carterjoseph1950

Price thinks he's slick with that sleazy feline demeanor. My favorite moments of him were on the news interviews, when he said, with the enthusiasm of a Porsche salesman: "Imagine if you will, a scenario in which all Americans have access to health care".


Access. Hmm. A ramp onto I-285 gives you access to the Perimeter. But not everyone on the Perimeter drives the same kind of car. Some can barely afford the gas. As if access to health care and real health care were even remotely the same thing.


Heres hoping he gets what he deserves. Is there anyone in the Trump circle, besides his generals ( of whom Trump said he knows more about ISIS than they) who has a shred of decency?

Peachs
Peachs

@carterjoseph1950 Love the 285 to nowhere analogy! I think we see the easy path of a one party state for people like Price, who we didn't know until there was opposition.