Tom Price — who resigned Friday as President Donald Trump’s secretary of health and human services amid investigations into a growing scandal over his frequent use of private planes for government business — once railed against money spent for non-commercial aircraft by members of Congress.
In a 2009 interview with CNBC, Price, then a Republican congressman from Georgia, blasted House Democrats for attempting to spend $550 million on eight aircraft for use by lawmakers and senior government officials. He also voiced opposition to a smaller request of $220 million, enough to purchase a Gulfstream and three Boeing 737s to add to an executive jet fleet maintained by the Air Force.
“I think we’ve made it halfway where we ought to, and that is cut it from eight to four jets,” Price told CNBC at the time. “Now we need to cut it from four jets to zero jets. This is just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress right now.”
As head of HHS, Price flew on privately chartered planes and military aircraft dozens of times, costing taxpayers more than $900,000, as Politico revealed in a series of reports. On Thursday, a day after Trump said he was “not happy” about the use of private planes, Price promised to reimburse the government roughly $52,000 for his seat on all non-commercial flights.
The White House announced Price’s resignation in a statement Friday afternoon:
Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted. The President intends to designate Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary, effective at 11:59 p.m. on September 29, 2017. Mr. Wright currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
In his resignation letter, Price told Trump: “I have spent 40 years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives. Success on these issues is more important than any one person. In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tendering my resignation.”
Price is one of four Trump administration officials facing growing backlash over their use of private or military aircraft for government business. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s non-commercial airfare has cost taxpayers over $58,000, according to reports. And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke chartered an oil company plane in June, costing taxpayers $12,375. Zinke said during a speech Friday that he’s used private planes on three occasions when no commercial flights were available and after getting approval from the ethics office. He characterized the controversy as “a little BS.”
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has also come under fire for using or requesting private or military aircraft.