Top Dem calls for Oversight Committee probe of Price private jet travel

Top Dem calls for Oversight Committee probe of Price private jet travel
© Moriah Ratner

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee on Friday called for the panel to investigate Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceZinke under federal investigation for speech to NHL team: report Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Senate confirms No. 2 spot at HHS, days after Price resigns MORE’s use of private jets for official business.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to Price asking for documents regarding the costs of using private planes and the justification for forgoing less-expensive commercial travel.

He also urged Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyTrey GowdyCummings demands documents about Conway's flights with Price Dems call for 'emergency' hearing on Trump's hurricane response Democrats unveil bills to ban Cabinet members’ private jet travel MORE (R-S.C.) to schedule a hearing, noting that Republicans joined with Democrats to investigate similar uses of private jets during the George W. Bush administration.

A Gowdy spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

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“It is clear that officials in the Trump Administration have been spoiled by a culture of unaccountability, and they are emboldened by the failure of House Republicans to do their job under the Constitution to act as a check on the President and the Executive Branch. These are exactly the kinds of abuses the Oversight Committee is supposed to investigate and hold hearings on — and that’s exactly what we should do here,” Cummings said in a statement.

Politico reported this week that Price used private jets on five flights last week for official business, which cost tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial flights. The use of private jets is a break in precedent from Price’s Obama-era predecessors, who flew commercially in the continental U.S.

A follow-up report by Politico on Thursday found that Price has used at least 24 flights on private planes since early May, costing taxpayers more than $300,000.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials said that Price uses private jets when commercial alternatives are not available. But Politico found that many of the flights were between big cities with frequent daily flights and train routes that would have cost taxpayers less than the private planes.

A spokesperson for Price told The Washington Post on Friday that Price can't serve American taxpayers if he is stuck at an airport and misses official business as a result.

“This is Secretary Price, getting outside of D.C., making sure he is connected with the real American people,” Charmaine Yoest, Price's assistant secretary for public affairs, told the Post. “Wasting four hours in an airport and having the secretary cancel his event is not a good use of taxpayer money.”

Cummings asked Price to provide the Oversight Committee with details by Oct. 10 about the number and full costs of each private flight.

“If these recent reports are accurate, this would be a stunning and hypocritical breach of trust given that the Trump administration at the same time is trying to take away health care from millions of Americans and is proposing to slash funding at HHS - negatively affecting critical programs to provide early-childhood education, fund Medicare for seniors, and conduct medical research and development,” Cummings wrote.

Top Democrats on other committees in the House and Senate earlier this week asked the HHS inspector general to investigate Price’s travel practices.

The letter, signed by the ranking Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce, House Ways and Means, Senate Finance, and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, asked the office to review how often Price used government or privately chartered aircraft and whether HHS personnel internally raised concerns.