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Tom Price To Magnanimously Pay Tiny Fraction Of Private Jet Costs. We Good?
Looks like we'll need to fix this for some others, too.
Tom Price's total use of government and charter jets for travel around the USA and the world has cost over a million dollars since May. Isn't that something? In the latest in a string of Price bombshells, Politico reported yesterday that Price had flown all over the world using military jets, often going places easily accessible by commercial airlines, to the tune of over $500,000, pushing Price's total taxpayer-funded travel on jets he probably didn't need to an amount that would dazzle Dr. Evil.
While Price and his wife Betty jetted off to Europe on military planes that cost about $25,000 an hour to operate, his staff somehow managed to find commercial flights that got them to the same destinations. But Price really, really needed the government jets, because "secure communication" -- we wouldn't want Price's secret plans to fuck over Obamacare to fall into the hands of our enemies, would we? HHS spokesperson Charmaine Yoest also explained that Price has since reimbursed the government for the costs of Betty Price's travel, although Politico notes Yoest "declined to say when he did so." Translation: Just as soon as anyone found out.
While Donald Trump has made some mildly grumpy noises about the Price tag of the secretary's domestic travel, a White House spokesperson, Raj Shah, said the foreign travel on military jets was cool. “Use of military aircraft for Cabinet and other essential travelers is sometimes an appropriate and necessary use of resources,” Shah explained.
Not that previous HHS secretaries needed Air Force Gulfstream executive jets to take them to Europe and other places where airlines go: Kathleen Sebelius, Barack Obama's first HHS secretary, only took commercial flights. Aides to the second Obama HHS head, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, said that she had taken a military jet to get to a health meeting in Havana, Cuba, which didn't have commercial alternatives.
But wait, maybe Price had to go places like Cuba, where no commercial airlines ever go!
Price’s overseas trips on government planes included stops in Berlin, Geneva, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City and Tokyo, where he attended world health meetings and met with other high-level officials. In May, Price also visited Liberia, where he discussed the nation’s response to the Ebola virus that ravaged the West African country three years ago.
“The trips he’s gone on make total sense,” one former HHS official said of Price. “It’s just how he got there.”
We aren't sure about Ho Chi Minh City or Liberia, but we have personally taken commercial flights to Japan, and can vouch that Tokyo has an airport with big ol' jet airliners. We bet maybe those other big cities do too! Politico managed to find some real bargains for trips to and within Europe, for instance.
In any case, Tom Price has totally learned his lesson, and he sang the "I'm Very Very Sorry" song Thursday, except for the parts where he hummed the "sorry" parts and added lines about how it was all perfectly legal and necessary, but he's sorrynotsorry if anyone was offended. In a statement, Price said he would never ever take another private jet again (when anyone's watching), and totally regrets "the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars":
All of my political career I’ve fought for the taxpayers,” Price said. “It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer. I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials.”
He was not sensitive enough to his very own concern, and sort of forgot his concern for the taxpayer (click through for Rachel Maddow in a fit of the giggles) as he sat on a chartered 30-seat plane to take him from Washington to Philadelphia at the cost of $25K.
Also, he very generously promised to pay the government back for a tiny fraction of the cost of the domestic chartered flights:
Today, I will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes[.]
Thing is, he didn't just charter that seat he was in; he chartered the whole damn plane. It's not like he was on flights that were already going all over the place. But he will at least pay the Treasury $52,000 of the over $400,000 in costs for those domestic charters. Maybe some of the other staff he took on the planes will chip in, too. It's all about personal responsibility, you know, as ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum reminds us:
It sure would be a shame if Tom Price got fired over this, when in any fair world he never would have been nominated after all his insider trading. Still, we suppose we can deal with it. Crom only knows what sort of maniac Trump would replace him with.