WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Democrats on Wednesday chastised Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, saying he wasted taxpayer money by chartering five private flights last week for official business when other cheaper travel options were available.
“Taxpayer funds are not meant to be used as a jet-setting slush fund,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. Pallone said Democrats would seek a “full accounting” of Price’s travel from his department’s inspector general.
Price, a former Republican House member from Georgia, chartered flights to a resort in Maine where he was part of a discussion with a health care industry CEO, according to a report in Politico. He also chartered flights to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. One leg was from Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia International Airport, a distance of 135 miles.
Charmaine Yoest, Price’s assistant secretary for public affairs, did not dispute the report. She said Price tries to fly commercial whenever possible, but that option “is not always feasible.” She said the department’s travel department checks “every possible source for travel needs.”
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To Democrats, Price’s expensive travel smacked of hypocrisy given Trump’s campaign pledge to drain “the swamp” of money and influence in Washington and Price’s long-standing criticism of government waste.
“Belt tightening seems to be for the little guy…not for @SecPriceMD,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tweeted, using Price’s Twitter handle.
Other members of the Cabinet contacted by The Associated Press said they personally foot the bill for chartered travel or reimburse taxpayers the difference between commercial and chartered travel. The exceptions are when they are traveling with the president or vice president, who fly aboard government planes.
Department of Education spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said by email that Secretary Betsy DeVos “pays for all of her travel expenses including flights, hotels, etc. out of pocket and at no expense to taxpayers.” Hill said the only charge to the department was one roundtrip Amtrak ticket from Washington to Philadelphia for $184.
Terrence Sutherland, a spokesman for Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, said in an email: “On the rare occasion that the administrator has utilized private air services, she had covered the difference in…