Another Friday, another deplorable Trump administration insider is out.
Like Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sebastian Gorka before him, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price has exited under pressure before a weekend when his troubles would have been the talk of the Sunday-morning political shows.
Price was shamed into quitting after it was revealed that the man who thinks helping people sign up for Affordable Care Act coverage is too costly had run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses by taking private plane trips when cheaper commercial flights were available.
Price should never have been in the HHS post. As an extreme right-wing Republican congressman from Georgia, he had developed a reputation as a fierce critic of the programs he was charged with administering. And he was plagued by personal scandal—including reports that, as a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Price had introduced legislation to help a medical-device company in which he had recently bought stock. Senate minority leader Charles Schumer complained when Trump’s nomination of Price was being considered about “a clear and troubling pattern of Congressman Price trading stock and using his office to benefit the companies in which he is investing.”
“The President-elect claims he wants to drain the swamp, but Congressman Price has spent his career filling it up,” said Schumer.
That was true, yet Price was confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate that failed to provide proper oversight during the confirmation process—and that hasn’t provided proper oversight since Trump appointees took charge of the federal government.
It’s good that Price is gone. But a little unfair. After all, it’s not as if the secretary of health and human services has been the only high-flier in the Trump administration.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has for some time now been the subject of inquiries into his transportation abuses. Even as Price was going down, The Washington Post was reporting that “EPA’s Pruitt took charter, military flights that cost taxpayers more than $58,000” in an article that explained: “The most expensive of the four trips came in early June, when Pruitt traveled from Andrews Air Force Base to Cincinnati to join President Trump as he pitched a plan to revamp U.S. infrastructure. From there, the administrator and several staff members continued on a military jet to John F. Kennedy airport in New York to catch a flight to Italy for an international meeting of environmental ministers. The cost of that flight was $36,068.50.”
Then there’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the billionaire Trump appointee who in August flew his new bride to Kentucky on a government plane so they could watch solar eclipse from a prime spot at Fort Knox. Reports about that flight led to a review by the Treasury Department’s inspector general.
In September, it was revealed that Mnuchin had asked the White House whether he could use a government jet for his summer honeymoon in Europe. Mnuchin, who eventually withdrew the request, claimed that he simply wanted access to secure lines of communication while celebrating his third marriage.
Donald Trump’s cabinet is packed with grifters who see “public service” as a way to live large at the expense of the taxpayers. Tom Price is out, thanks to some excellent investigative reporting by Politico. But if accountability is now on the agenda, he won’t be the last presidential appointee to make a Friday-afternoon exit from the administration.
If Congress wants to hasten the process, and it should, House and Senate committees should start doing their jobs by providing oversight of departments and agencies that are being plundered by the aides and allies of a president who promised to “drain the swamp.” And the oversight should not stop there. As Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, says: “Tom Price spent $1 million in taxpayer money on private jets and military planes because he was completely out of touch with regular Americans. The waste of taxpayer money is important, but far more consequential is the policy agenda that the health secretary pushed, seeking to deny health care coverage to tens of millions of Americans. The other jet-setting Cabinet officials suffer from exactly the same problems: They have no self-awareness of their profligacy because they are out of touch with regular folks. They view their constituents as the corporate class, to whom jet-setting is the norm, and it’s the corporate class that they are aiming to serve.”