In a statement apologizing for his repeated use of private jets, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Thursday announced several steps he'll take to make amends.
Those steps include cooperating fully with the internal department review, ceasing use of private charter flights, and personally reimbursing the cost of his travel on the trips in question. At first blush, that last step sounds particularly impressive -- indeed, the department is billing it as "unprecedented." But it's far less commendable than it seems.
A Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed Price would write a personal check totaling $51,887.31 to cover the cost of "his share" of the travel. That's an insult to the public. Reports have estimated the secretary's private charter flights have cost taxpayers nearly $400,000 since May alone. One such flight set the government back $18,000 for a six-hour trip to Nashville that included less than 90 minutes of official business. And it was completely unnecessary, as commercial flights that mirrored Price's travel pattern were readily available.
That's only one example.
Price paying only for his own seat on the plane is a sham -- an insufficient gesture packaged as something impressive to placate the public. The secretary's decision to charter private flights cost the government $400,000, not the $50,000 he is paying back.
Before Price apologized, HHS repeatedly contended private jets were chartered only when commercial options were "unfeasible." If commercial options were "unfeasible" so often over the past four months, how then can Price suddenly pledge not to fly private for the rest of his time in office? If he's capable of relying only on commercial options for the next several years, of course he was capable of doing so before getting caught. That Price included such a pledge in his apology suggests the private flights were almost always more a convenience than a necessity.
Compounded with his history of sketchy stock activity and a new Politico report out on Friday about his use of military jets for international travel, Price's sense of judgment has to be seriously called into question. In February, Price sold his shares of stock in a biotech company for $320,000 -- that tripled his initial investment, an offer made only to "sophisticated investors," which he took advantage of as a congressman.
Coincidentally, that's close to what he billed taxpayers for four months of private jet travel. And let's not forget the $300,000 worth of shares he traded in health-related companies between 2012 and 2016 either.
Price is more than capable of picking up the full tab for his private travel, but elected instead to pay a fraction and hope the public accepted it as adequate redress.
That's almost more insulting than his entire pattern of bad judgment.
Sure, in the scheme of the federal budget $400,000 is minor, and I want to believe Price's intentions as secretary are good. But as a member of the Drain the Swamp Cabinet, his conduct has undermined the credibility of that signature pledge. These reports go along way towards burning his credibility as a steward of fiscal conservatism and responsible governance as well.
Apologies are fine when they're wholehearted, but with Price, for whom this pattern spans from his stocks to his initial decision to charter the flights to his judgment in compensating taxpayers for only a fraction of those costs, the damage to his reputation will rightfully be indelible.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.