Political Insider

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With military flights, the five-month cost of Tom Price's air travel tops $1 million

Politico.com had toted up a $400,000 total since May, prompting a declaration of unhappiness from President Donald Trump – and so this statement from the former Georgia congressman:

“Today, I will write a personal check to the US Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes,” the former Roswell congressman said in a statement. “The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes.”

Shortly afterwards, Price had a mea culpa appointment with Fox News, slightly bragging on his check-writing decision:

"[It's] never been done, to our understanding, before by a secretary, in spite of the fact that previous administrations have had secretaries that flew an awful lot," Price told host Bret Baier….

"All of these trips were official business," Price said. "All of them were approved by the normal processes that every other administration has gone through prior to the trip, not after. But we've heard the concerns."

Then came the news that the reimbursement figure that would be on Price’s reimbursement check: $51,887.31. How that figure was arrived at isn’t clear.

And while Price was most likely in the Fox News green room, CNN’s Jim Acosta, the cable networks’ White House correspondent, put out a Tweet to this effect: “Names are being floated to replace HHS Sec. Price incl FDA Commissioner Gottlieb and CMS Admin Verma, I'm told.”

Even then, Thursday wasn’t yet done with Price. Politico.com landed another blow within the six o’clock hour:

The White House approved the use of military aircraft for multi-national trips by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to Africa and Europe this spring, and to Asia in the summer, at a cost of more than $500,000 to taxpayers.

The overseas trips bring the total cost to taxpayers of Price’s travels to more than $1 million since May....

Why does all this matter? From one of Price’s former colleagues, via the Washington Post:

 Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, said in an interview Wednesday that the juxtaposition of the secretary’s lavish trips and the budget cuts he is seeking posed a serious problem.

“Optics matter in politics,” Cole said.


Georgia has an odd educational hierarchy – an elected state school superintendent who is independent of the state school board he reports to, and an elected governor who has control over the state school superintendent’s budget.

The duality has produced explosions in the past. In the 1990s, Gov. Zell Miller engaged in open warfare with Linda Schrenko, the first Republican state school superintendent. A down-and-out politician named Johnny Isakson had to be brought in as mediator.

It appears that it’s déjà vu all over again. From the AJC’s Ty Tagami:

Gov. Nathan Deal refused to sign Georgia’s plan for complying with the latest federal education law, highlighting a conflict with state school Superintendent Richard Woods.

Officially, the dispute may be over how many tests students are subjected to. But there was also this from state school board member Larry Winter:

“Communication between the board and the department is at an all-time low,” declared Winter. He was referring to the Georgia Department of Education led by Woods. Winter said it was easier to reach the governor than to get an email returned by Woods’ senior staff, and he complained that neither Deal nor the board got enough input into the plan.


The tax cut package that’s now the talk of Washington would trim $1.5 trillion in federal income over 10 years. And so far, there’s not been much said about offsets. Which implies that Republicans have revised their antipathy to the growing federal debt.

Watch where U.S. Sen. David Perdue goes on this one. The debt has been his No. 1 issue since his election in 2014. He was critical of last year’s presidential campaign dialogue because there wasn’t enough talk about it.


On a similar topic, we have this from the AJC’s James Salzer today:

Conservative Southern politicians love to rail against the profligate spending of the federal government, but their states generally get more from Uncle Sam than their constituents pay in taxes, according to a new report.

That includes Georgia, where the federal government spent $1.29 per person for every $1 its residents paid in taxes in 2015, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York.


There’s this state called Alabama on the west side of Georgia. Republicans there just nominated a twice-deposed jurist for U.S. Senate who thinks Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a corrupt swamp creature. Politico.com asked McConnell’s colleagues whether the name of Roy Moore rang a bell:

"I've never met the gentleman," said Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson. "Being from Georgia, which is next to Alabama, I've heard his name in the Alabama Supreme Court. I know what I've seen on TV and what I've read in the papers."

So what does Isakson think about Moore? "I like to keep my comments to my own."


Over at the Washington Post, David Ignatius says that keeping an eye on Donald Trump’s itinerary will reduce your angst over his Tweets:

Watch where he goes, and some of the policy implications become clear. A president who is about to attack North Korea doesn’t schedule a November trip to China.

I feel better already.


A GeorgiaPol.com recap of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's address to a GOP group in Athens caught our eye: The piece said Cagle told the group he supports congressional efforts to pass a law cementing legal status for DACA recipients. Earlier, Cagle told the AJC he supports the president's decision to give “Congress time to find a solution” that could involve a proposal to overhaul legal immigration. We asked if his tune has changed on the debate over giving young undocumented immigrants legal status.

Cagle campaign manager Scott Binkley said the candidate believes it's "incumbent upon Congress to decide on a policy that governs this scenario" and that it was inappropriate for any president to grant "de facto amnesty" through executive order.

"Casey has compassion for people who were brought here as children through no fault of their own but he opposes amnesty which would perversely incentivize more families to come here illegally," said Binkley. (Greg Bluestein)


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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.