HHS Secretary Tom Price was on Fox last night addressing his penchant for sticking it to the taxpayers for travel on chartered planes. His performance was underwhelming.
Secretary Price said repeatedly that his high-dollar flights were cleared in advance by the proper authorities and mentioned the pressing need for showing up on time for hurricane-related meetings.
The secretary did not explain what pressing need impelled him to use a taxpayer paid for private jet to get to St. Simons Island, an idyllic spot off the Georgia coast where the Prices own property, a day and a half before Price spoke to a group of doctors at a medical conference both the secretary and his wife, a physician, attended. According to a September 23 Politico story, Price had cost the taxpayer $400,000 for charter jets since May.
Price did say that he will reimburse the taxpayer for his travel to the tune of around $51,000, the estimated cost of a seat on planes that otherwise would not have been in operation.
Perhaps the reason Secretary Price's performance on Fox was so underwhelming is that it would have been political suicide just to state the facts: the government allows high officials to spend lavishly on perks that the rest of us (that would be the folks footing the bills for said perks) would never in a million years be able to afford and government officials succumb to the temptation to treat such perks as their right. In my book, this reeks of Third World decadence.
What could Price have said?
"I am sorry. I got caught up up in this lousy system that lets public officials takes advantage of the taxpayer in outrageous ways, and I regret being a part of this. It will never happen again," is what Price could have said, if he'd wanted to come clean rather than just put the controversy to bed.
There are obviously times when a high government official must take a private plane. I get that. I am eagerly awaiting an explanation as to why a trip to St. Simon's Island is one of those times.
Taking advantage of the taxpayer in this way is one of the only truly bipartisan features of contemporary Washington. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker was famous for demanding free luxury flights home to California on military jets that were the government equivalent of the Gulfstream V. She often took family members and demanded that the fridge be well stocked for her entourage.
What I wonder is when do our government officials decide that they are too fabulous to take commercial flights?
When our friend Nancy Pelosi was flying in luxury on our dime, I suggested that flying commercial and mingling with the people (frightening!), might actually have a good influence on how our overly cosseted public servants do their jobs. At the time I suggested that, if Pelosi had had to listen to the citizenry while changing planes, she might have gotten an earful and ObamaCare might have been different. I wrote:
If you're stuck in an airport, you'll have to listen to us. Several times, I've wondered if the administration's health care bill could have passed if Ms. Pelosi had to change planes in a midwestern airport.
If Pelosi had had to change planes in a regular airport, she might have had to listen to what citizens had to say about ObamaCare.
This taking advantage of taxpayer largesse isn't limited to air flight. Government departments that put on lavish conferences are doing the same thing. But I don't think this situation calls for new rules: it calls for decency. At the end of Pelosi's high flying Speaker days, when Republicans were coming into power with a chance to do better, I blogged:
We don't need a lot of new rules about what representatives can and can't accept from lobbyists. We need people with a sense of what is appropriate-right-and what is not. Republicans, you're still on academic probation. Mr. Boehner set the right tone last night. You will have many opportunities to blow it, though. Every day.
Tom Price is a physician and was a respected member of the House for many years. Many of us were delighted when he was appointed to his present position. He is a talented man and we still have hope that ObamaCare will be ended with something better replacing it.
But right now, I'm wearing my new T-shirt. It reads, "I voted for ObamaCare repeal and replacement, and all I got was Tom Price's lousy private jet bills."