Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's private-jet travel is tough to defend. After initially refusing comment, the far-right cabinet's secretary spokesperson said yesterday Price's chartered flights were necessary to accommodate his “incredibly demanding schedule,” but given the circumstances, it's a tough sell.
And as Politico noted, congressional Democrats clearly aren't buying it.
House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday formally requested that the HHS inspector general investigate HHS Secretary Tom Price's use of private planes for government business.
Five Democrats asked the inspector general to review Price's adherence to federal regulations on traveling by government employees, following a POLITICO investigation that found Price used charter planes to conduct official business within the United States. The request — sent by Reps. Frank Pallone and Richard Neal and Sens. Patty Murray, Ron Wyden and Gary Peters — asks the office to probe how many times Price used government or charter aircraft, the costs of the trips and whether HHS personnel raised internal concerns about Price's use of private planes.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) launched a related effort on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Ordinarily in a situation like this, officials might try to lean on their reputation, hoping their record and history of credibility might lead others to give them the benefit of the doubt. In Price's case, however, that really isn't an option.
As regular readers may recall, in late January, there were some striking reports published about the far-right Georgia Republican and his controversial investment record. The Wall Street Journal reported, for example, that Price “traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.”
Kaiser Health New added soon after that Price got “a sweetheart deal” on an investment opportunity from a foreign biotech firm. CNN then reported that the congressman bought stock in a medical company, introduced legislation that would benefit that company, and then received a campaign contribution from the company’s PAC.
We learned soon after that Price allegedly undervalued stocks he owned “in a pharmaceutical company both to the committee and in his financial disclosure forms,” and a separate Wall Street Journal piece added, “Three months after investing in four companies with manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary introduced legislation that would directly benefit those companies.”
USA Today, citing research from government ethics lawyers, noted on Feb. 8 that Price’s investments “warrant probes by both federal securities regulators and the House ethics committee.” (Two days later, Senate Republicans, without exception, confirmed Price anyway.)
Even after he was confirmed, the revelations continued. ProPublica reported in late March, "On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show."
Making matters just a little worse, Mother Jones reported earlier this year that Tom Price's wife, Betty Price, is a state legislator in Georgia, where she's reportedly "leaned on the health industry, both in Georgia and nationally, for campaign donations. And the medical industry has maintained its financial support for her since her husband was picked by Trump -- despite the fact that Betty Price won’t face reelection for another two years."
It's probably too soon to say how serious Tom Price's private-jet controversy is, but given the other allegations he's faced this year, I'm afraid the benefit of the doubt isn't in the cards.