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Tom Price's private-jet travel raises eyebrows

There's something inherently Dickensian about the story of Tom Price's private-jet travel.
Image: Tom Price
Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, at his confirmation...

In September 2009, Tom Price, at the time a far-right congressional Republican, appeared on CNBC and railed against government use of private jets. Now, in September 2017, Politico has a report on that same Tom Price, the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, taking full advantage of private jets.

In a sharp departure from his predecessors, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom 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.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.

Price apparently didn't want to answer Politico's questions about this, but the magazine spoke to the organizations that hosted the HHS secretary and none of them paid for his travel -- raising the possibility that American taxpayers picked up the tab, though this detail hasn't yet been confirmed.

To be sure, the events Price attended clearly related to health care -- this isn't a "John Sununu took a government limo to a stamp auction" kind of story -- but it's not at all clear why the cabinet secretary couldn't use commercial travel like his predecessors did.

In fact, Politico found that for one of Price's trips -- from D.C. to Philadelphia -- there was "a commercial flight that departed at roughly the same time," at a fraction of the cost. For that matter, as people from that area probably know, there are plenty of trains between D.C. and Philly. It's a quick trip, and it costs even less than the cheapest flight.

HHS didn't answer Politico's questions about just how many private charter flights Price has taken since taking over the cabinet agency, but the article added, "Current and former staffers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say Price has been taking private jets to travel domestically for months."

Stepping back, the broader circumstances are almost Dickensian. A powerful Republican official has spent months fighting to take health care benefits from millions of Americans, arguing that the country can't afford to bring health security to the people. In the name of fiscal responsibility, he's even trying to cut funding for his own department and layoff parts of its workforce.

That same official has also apparently been caught taking private jets, possibly at taxpayer expense. Even for Trump World, this is a little over the top.

Postscript: Politico's piece noted that the information about Price's travel came by way of "internal HHS documents." Perhaps there are officials in the cabinet agency who aren't pleased with their newest boss?