Torpy at Large: Tom Price, fiscal hawk / highfalutin flyboy

Combined ShapeCaption
The use of the private jet has cost tax payers thousands

Metro Atlanta’s own Tom Price, the surgeon-turned-congressman-turned-U.S. Health Secretary, is now getting pummeled for flying around in private jets.

Last week, the news site Politico detailed a three-day sprint for which Price spent more than $60,000 on such flights. Later, Politico said it was more like $300,000 since May, with flights often costing $10,000-plus a pop, even when commercial flights with similar schedules could be booked for one-tenth the price. Or less.

Combined ShapeCaption

ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption

That Price was known as a “fiscal conservative” or “deficit hawk” in the past should not be surprising. Such bird-of-prey notions often settle to dovish manners when taxpayer money can be spent for one’s own benefit or to make life more convenient.

Nor should it be surprising that he was bad-mouthing such travel in 2009 — the annual deficit then was a whopping $1.4 Trillion.

But things have changed. A recent estimate put the fiscal year 2017 deficit at $693 Billion. See? Problem solved, the T is now just a B.

But at its core, Tom Price is an important guy these days. And busy, too. You don’t expect him to schlep around airport terminals, bags in hand, flying coach, do you? Or even first class?

“Wasting four hours in an airport and having the secretary cancel his event (because of a delayed flight) is not a good use of taxpayer money,” Charmaine Yoest, a press secretary, told The Washington Post.

Besides, Doctor Tom knows you’ve got to get out there to feel the pulse of the population.

His secretary added that Price is “getting outside of D.C., making sure he is connected with the real American people.”

Price spent $25,000 to fly some 150 miles from D.C. to Philadelphia to visit a drug treatment center. Opioid abuse is a national crisis, and I'm sure he found "real Americans" there. But imagine how many more ordinary folks Price could have hobnobbed with flying commercial.

Oddly, The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who’s also a surgeon, was in Philly last week to open a school and had to cut short an interview — because he had to catch a train.

I decided to hang out in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which elected Price to office six times, to see how real people there feel about Sec. Private Jet.

I visited a few spots in Dunwoody, precincts that went slightly Republican in the recent Karen Handel/Jon Ossoff melee.

I encountered a CEO, a CFO, a retired Del Monte exec, an event producer, an addiction counselor, a Baptist preacher, a lawyer, a software developer, a supply-chain facilitator, an audiologist, a homeless man, a high school science teacher, a salesman, a woman who once butted heads with a balky bank, and a lady with a sick cat named “Stinky” in a cage.

Real people, although it might skew a little more upper-crust than most slivers of America because the north metro district is, according to The New York Times, the sixth-most-educated congressional district in America, with 56 percent of adults having college degrees.

Combined ShapeCaption
Tom Price looks on as Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks about the opioid crisis during a tour of a drug and alcohol treatment center in Media, Pa., on Sept. 15, 2017.

Tom Price looks on as Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks about the opioid crisis during a tour of a drug and alcohol treatment center in Media, Pa., on Sept. 15, 2017.

Combined ShapeCaption
Tom Price looks on as Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks about the opioid crisis during a tour of a drug and alcohol treatment center in Media, Pa., on Sept. 15, 2017.

Out of 15 people I interviewed, I determined that people’s opinions — sort of — fell along party lines. Sort of. Four people supported his travel habits wholeheartedly, eight were mad or disgusted, and another three were either numbed to it or split on the issue.

“I 100 percent support him,” said Maureen Riski, an audiologist. “I appreciate him trying to work to get rid of Obamacare. Do I care that he’s spending money? No, he’s toiling for me.”

Larry Hall, a software CEO, was getting on his bike when I approached. “I don’t have a problem. Tom Price is gonna do a good job. I don’t need the media going after him on this. I’m not worried about a few private jet trips.”

Deborah Gault said Price’s office helped her family cut through red tape when dealing with an obstinate bank. “I found him to be one of the most productive government officials I’ve come across. If he maintains a private jet to maintain that high level of productivity, then I’m for it.”

After that, though, even those who have supported Price were casting a jaundiced eye.

I’d put Robert Whitis, a retired food executive and a Republican, in the benumbed category. “I’m kind of inert to it and expect it,” he said. “They all seem to do it.”

A few feet away, Jennie Brahm, an independent who used to be a Republican, walked from the vet clinic with her sick cat. “I think it’s shameful,” she said, shaking her head. “It really ticks me off.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 21, 2017, in Washington.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 21, 2017, in Washington.

Combined ShapeCaption
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 21, 2017, in Washington.

The Rev. Shane Baker, a conservative, was on his way to get some ice cream. “That’s the thing I appreciate about Jimmy Carter; he flies coach,” he said. “I guess (Price) needs to evaluate his priorities. Does he want to serve himself? Or the public?”

Larry Rogers, the teacher, said: “It’s weird when you have a person who wanted to cut the budget do something like this. It gets twisted. I get very frustrated with politicians when they don’t practice what they preach.”

Jill Vogin, a moderate Democrat and a chief financial officer, said, “Let them eat cake,” when I asked her about Price’s actions. “It’s not just abusive government anymore. It’s about privilege.”

Joanna Queen lives in Roswell near Price and noted that he often flies to his home nearby. A Dunwoody resident recently posted on Facebook that Price was on his flight from D.C., flying coach. My guess here is one’s own money makes a person a more judicious steward of treasure.

Queen, who works in logistics, said government money “all just blends in together.”

“No,” she added with a shrug, “it doesn’t surprise me. I don’t know. If I was in that position, I guess I’d take advantage of it if there’s no rules against it. Even if it’s not right.”

The event producer, a Trump supporter who didn’t want to give his name, went on a bit of a tirade about wasted tax money when asked about Price: “Is he in a hurry? Is it for ego? Is there no other way to go? Big freakin’ deal! Get on an airline like the rest of us.”