Price’s office defends jet use: Helps him connect to 'real American people'

Price’s office defends jet use: Helps him connect to 'real American people'
© Keren Carrion

The office of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWhite House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report Overnight Health Care: CBO finds bill delaying parts of ObamaCare costs B | Drug CEO defends 400 percent price hike | HHS declares health emergency ahead of hurricane HHS should look into Azar's close ties to the drug industry MORE is defending his use of costly charter jets as an administration official, saying that Price uses the jets to connect with "real American people."

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.”

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Price has spent the equivalent of $300,000 in taxpayer-funded private flights since May, according to a Politico report. That number includes at least 24 flights since early May.

The former Georgia congressman has frequently chosen to fly on private aircraft rather than commercial airplanes even when cheaper options were available. The policy is a reversal from previous HHS chiefs Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusProgressives set to test appeal of prairie populism in Kansas primary Overcoming health-care challenges by moving from volume to value Mr. President, let markets help save Medicare MORE and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who both flew commercial, according to the report.

A senior administration official told the Post that the White House "did not approve" of Price's charter jet use, and former Office of Government Ethics chief Walter Shaub blasted Price's use of taxpayer dollars in an interview with Politico.

“If you’re going to a conference, you have some [advance] flexibility to book travel," Shaub said. “This shows a complete disregard for the expense to the taxpayer.”

A senior White House official quoted by Politico indicated that Price could be on thin ice with the administration, especially amid the close fight to pass the latest ObamaCare repeal bill through the Senate.

"No one is quite sure what [Price] is doing,” the official told Politico. “You look at this week, we're doing a last final push trying to get this over the finish line, and he's nowhere to be found."