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Doing things the right way is hard. It takes more time, energy, and resources than any of the other possibilities that we think of to ease the load. Daily compromises are unavoidable.

tom price fired

Doing things the wrong way in public means running the risk of being caught, the risk that your shortcuts, maybe justifiable, maybe not, are publicly discussed. Those moments are revealing about people who don’t try to get things right.

Tom Price was Cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services, confirmed by the Senate, right at the center of American politics. He must have thought that appointment was a promotion from his House seat, Newt Gingrich’s seat in Georgia, where he had no primary challenger and beat his opponent for his seventh term 62% to 38%.

Now he could play a dominant role in achieving his political dream, getting rid of Obamacare and recreating America’s entire health care system, having led the Republican charge since 2009. After that, maybe he could go one step further and get rid of Medicare: his organization, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, publishes “The Physicians Guide to Opting Out of Medicare” and works to make vaccinations optional.

What a dream job. But now, as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune headlined on Saturday, “High-flying Price takes off”. From May to September, Price took a flight every week on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense, costing us $400,000 in just a few months. He spent $25,000 of public money to fly from Washington to Philadelphia, when a train costs $72 and takes about the same time.

Price didn’t steal anything. All of his very expensive travel was on government business. His mistake was thinking that his time and comfort were worth a great deal to us, the people who are paying, at the same time as he was arguing that the government is spending much too much on our health care. Price is a hypocrite who doesn’t care a bit about the values of “Trump voters” or any voters.

In the wake of Price’s ouster, other Trump appointees have hastened to draw a clear ethical line. Billionaires Betsy DeVos and Wilbur Ross pay for all of their travel on their own planes, and others like Ben Carson and Alex Acosta fly commercial unless they are with the President or Vice President. They are clear that they would never use government money to pay for personal travel. That would be stealing.

Price’s luxury travel is the visible tip of the iceberg of the wider corruption of values and morality of those in power.

So where does that leave Steven Mnuchin? The Secretary of the Treasury requested that a government jet take him and his bride on their honeymoon to Scotland, France and Italy this summer. Mnuchin is worth about $300 million. Mnuchin is also not guilty of stealing, because his request was turned down. But he tried, in a textbook attempt at corruption.

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Now he says he’ll do the right thing in the future: “I can promise the American taxpayer the only time that I will be using milair [military aircraft] is when there are issues either for national security or where ... there’s no other means.”

Is the swamp being drained? Seems not.

Price resigned under pressure. Before his flights became a public scandal, Trump announced to the Boy Scouts that if Price failed to get the votes to repeal Obamacare, Trump would say “Tom, you’re fired.” A “senior White House official” complained that Price was “nowhere to be found” in the Republicans’ final effort to kill Obamacare. Price made the boss look bad, not because he wasted our money, but because he couldn’t deliver.

He’s gone, but the swamp is deeper.

Price’s luxury travel is the visible tip of the iceberg of the wider corruption of values and morality of those in power. Price said “all of this travel was approved by legal and HHS officials.” The Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin took his wife to Europe, where they visited four palaces, took a river cruise, and watched the Wimbledon tennis tournament, paid by taxpayers. He did a bit of work, too. The VA said that its “ethics counsel” okayed everything. The Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who is proposing big cuts in his department, which includes the EPA, flew an entourage in private jets to the Virgin Islands for three days. Not a peep out of the swamp-drainer-in-chief.

Mnuchin will still decide what taxes we all will pay in the future. He and his fellow multi-millionaires will save enough by the tax cuts to take European vacations whenever they want.

Trump’s voters thought that draining the swamp in Washington would be the right thing. There is no evidence that it’s happening. Trump’s hand-picked advisors are living it up in unprecedented fashion at our expense. His ethics watchdogs say it’s all okay.

steve hochstadt

That’s not doing anything the right way.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives