Government officials "check every possible source for travel needs, including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible" for Tom Price, who has "an incredibly demanding schedule." That's how a spokesperson defended the Health and Human Services secretary Wednesday after a Politico report claimed Price used at least $60,000 in taxpayer funds to take five private jet flights in three days, per the New York Times. Despite the spokesperson's assurances, Politico reported that a commercial flight costing hundreds of dollars departed Washington's Dulles airport for Philadelphia at almost the exact same time that Price left Washington for Philadelphia on a $25,000 private flight last week.
Previous health secretaries traveled by commercial airline, and Price—who supported an 18% HHS budget cut for fiscal 2018—"certainly seems no busier than they were, and certainly no more deserving of special treatment," says Sen. Richard Blumenthal, referring to Price's travel as "potentially improper and perhaps illegal." Five other Democrats from the House and Senate have urged the HHS inspector general to investigate. In a letter, they cite federal travel regulations stating chartered aircraft is only an option when it is "the most cost-effective mode of travel." CNBC takes a look back at a 2009 interview in which Price referred to a plan by House Democrats to buy passenger jets as "another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress."