- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2017

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned Friday after a scandal over the cost of his travel on private jets.

The White House said Mr. Price submitted his resignation Friday and President Trump accepted.

The president will designate Don Wright as acting secretary; he is currently a deputy assistant secretary at HHS.

Earlier Friday, Mr. Trump said he was “not happy” with the perception that his Cabinet member was wasting tax money on private jet flights.

“I was disappointed, because I didn’t like it cosmetically or otherwise,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “This is an administration that saves hundreds of millions of dollars on renegotiating things, on new trade deals. I don’t like to see somebody that perhaps there’s the perception that it wasn’t right.”

Asked if he would announce a decision soon on whether he was firing Mr. Price, the president replied, “We’ll be announcing something today. Probably sometime today. I’m not happy.”

SEE ALSO: HHS Secretary Tom Price vows to stop chartered flights, repay taxpayers

Mr. Price said Thursday he was writing a personal check for $52,000 to the government to cover the cost of his seat on several private jet flights that he took in recent months as part of his official duties.

The president said of his HHS chief, “I think he’s a very fine person. As a human being, Tom Price is a very good man. [But] I certainly don’t like the optics. It’s a shame.”

Mr. Wright, of Virginia, has been serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan Paul Ryan, who worked with Mr. Price when he was a GOP lawmaker from Georgia, called the departing secretary “a good man.”

“He has spent his entire adult life fighting for others, first as a physician and then as a legislator and public servant,” Mr. Ryan said. “He was a leader in the House and a superb health secretary. His vision and hard work were vital to the House’s success passing our health care legislation. I will always be grateful for Tom’s service to this country and, above all, his continued friendship.”

But Democrats said the resignation shows that Mr. Trump isn’t living up to his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, and called on the GOP to wage more effective oversight on the administration.

“Today, yet another of his top officials has resigned in disgrace,” said Rep. David N. Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat and a member of House Democratic leadership. “Enough is enough. Republicans in Congress have given Donald Trump and his administration a blank check to do whatever they want. It’s long past time for them to work with Democrats to conduct real oversight that prevents this type of abuse. Looking the other way cannot be tolerated a single moment longer.”

Mr. Cicilline said Mr. Price should repay taxpayers for the full cost of the private flights, not just for his seat.

“Partial repayments are not enough to erase the damage he has done,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York also criticized Mr. Price for working to repeal Obamacare.

“The mission of the Health and Human Services secretary should be to support Americans’ health care, not take it away,” Mr. Schumer said. “The next HHS secretary must follow the law when it comes to the Affordable Care Act instead of trying to sabotage it.”

Mr. Price and Democrats had a bitter relationship from the start.

During his confirmation process, liberal senators faulted him for trading hundreds of thousands of dollars in health-related stocks, even as he oversaw legislation that could affect those companies.

Senior Republicans rallied to his defense, saying Mr. Price had disclosed his trades and was being smeared for political purposes.

Still, his downfall is a remarkable turnaround from February, when Vice President Mike Pence called Mr. Price, a former congressman and physician, “the most principled expert on health care policy” during his swearing-in ceremony.

Mr. Price oversaw a massive portfolio at HHS, from insuring roughly 120 million poor, disabled and elderly Americans to approving life-saving drugs and beating back health scourges such as the mosquito-borne Zika virus and the opioidepidemic.

Yet carrying out the GOP’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was his number-one task. He swiftly moved to slash the 2018 enrollment period in half and tighten up signup rules, something insurers wanted, yet fast-track legislation designed to smooth the way for market-oriented moves at HHS sputtered out in Congress.

Over the summer, as the Senate took its first of two ill-fated swings at repeal, Mr. Trump offered an ominous warning for his health secretary at a Boy Scout rally in West Virginia.

If Mr. Price failed to pin down the votes, the president declared, “I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.’”

Other Cabinet secretaries have come under fire for private travel billed to taxpayers and other expenses.

The Sierra Club used Mr. Price’s resignation as an opportunity to call for the ouster of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“Forcing Tom Price from office does not come close to answering questions in the Trump Administration about the abuse of taxpayer funds when Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt are unrepentantly wasting hundreds of thousands on their own luxurious travel and sticking hardworking Americans with the bill,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

“They deserve Price’s fate and should be removed from office immediately.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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