Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said he will write a personal check to the federal government for his costs of traveling on private jets and will permanently halt his use of charter flights.
“The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes,” Price said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
The announcement follows a POLITICO investigation that found Price has taken at least 26 charter flights costing taxpayers more than $400,000 since May to conduct official business within the country. Price’s travel, which was first reported over a week ago, has increasingly come under fire from President Donald Trump and former colleagues in Congress.
HHS confirmed to several media outlets that Price will write a check to the U.S. Treasury worth $51.887.31 — just a fraction of the total travel costs. The department did not confirm those details to POLITICO, which broke the story of his chartered flights. HHS did not address the costs of the staff and security officials who accompanied Price on those flights.
Price, whose use of private jets is being investigated by the HHS inspector general and Congress, said he will no longer charter flights for official business. “No exceptions,” he said.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday wouldn’t commit to keeping Price in his administration, saying only “we’ll see” when asked whether Price would be fired. Trump has privately fumed over Price’s use of expensive charter jets, and some aides have called for firing Price. Hours before Price’s announcement, the White House on Thursday said it had ordered HHS to halt all private flights.
“As the president said yesterday, he’s not thrilled — certainly not happy with the actions,” White House press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Many of Price’s flights were between major cities that offered inexpensive alternatives on commercial airlines, including Nashville, Philadelphia and San Diego. On some of those trips, Price mixed official business with personal affairs.
Price’s statement came after increasing scrutiny from the Hill. The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday launched a bipartisan investigation into the use of private planes by all Cabinet secretaries. Sen. Chuck Grassley on Thursday sent a letter asking the White House to rein in officials’ travel costs.
Price’s decision to reimburse just the costs of just his airfare is unlikely to satisfy Democratic lawmakers, who’ve ripped him for lavishly spending taxpayer dollars while advocating for major cuts to health insurance programs covering low-income Americans.
“Until @SecPriceMD has paid back the full amount of his private jet flights he is still ripping off taxpayers,” tweeted Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee.
Price, who appeared at a White House event on opioid abuse with First Lady Melania Trump on Thursday, gave no indication that he planned to step down amid the outcry over his private travel. Earlier in the day, Price told reporters he believed the president still supported him, but he later refused to say whether he was worried about losing his job.
“I work at the pleasure of the president,” Price said on Fox News, adding that he hopes to “regain the trust” of the American people and those working in the administration. Price said he’s complying with the inspector general’s review and contended that all his trips passed legal review.
Other Cabinet officials’ travel has also come under recent scrutiny. Department auditors are reviewing private and military flights taken Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
Price, who represented Georgia for more than a decade in the House, has a longstanding reputation as a fiscal hawk and a staunch opponent of Obamacare. As a former chair of the House Budget Committee, he proposed federal spending plans that would have repealed the 2010 health law and culled hundreds of billions from health care entitlement programs. During his time as secretary, Price backed the White House’s proposal to cut $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health and slash overall HHS spending by 18 percent. Congress has opposed those cuts.
On Thursday, Price said he regretted the concerns that his travel practices has raised.
“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.”
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