Let’s drain the swamp - but for real this time!

Emily Kowalik ‘18
Opinions Editor

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned from Trump’s cabinet last week amid investigations into his use of private jets and military planes. This arrogant waste of money on chartered plane trips cost taxpayers nearly one million dollars, even though inexpensive commercial flights were available.

The Trump administration has routinely called for draconian spending cuts and a reduction in government waste. But all this private travel taken by Price was approved by departmental officials.

Clearly the foxes are guarding the henhouse.

The White House reacted to the scandal by simply placing new rules on officials’ air travel plans.

But this is surely a crappy way to run the country for an administration that campaigned against this kind of elite political privilege, making election commitments to “drain the swamp.” The swamp is supported by the influence of money in politics. Cabinet officials who repeatedly display ethical lapses signal a profound culture of laxity.  

I think we all should all have strong opinions on reform. 

First, the rules on travel expenses need more than changing. They’ve clearly been abused and self-regulation is just not working. Price’s downfall was precipitated by his elitist taste in travel and a lack of internal oversight by his administration. But other Cabinet members, like Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have taken loads of taxpayer-paid travel on private or military jets, too.

Munchin’s private flights included one to Kentucky, where he watched the solar eclipse with his new wife and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Pruitt’s multiple taxpayer-paid flights on private or military aircraft cost more than $58,000. And what about the trip to London by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, which included sightseeing and attendance at the Wimbledon tennis match?

Still, it isn’t so much the travel that’s the true problem – it’s the tone-deaf reaction of Trump’s cabinet members and their inability to see the wrongness of their actions. 

Zinke staunchly defended his private flights, including one costing $12,000 to his Montana home after a dinner for a political benefactor. Zinke said criticism of the flights was improper, solely because his travel plans had been reviewed.

And Price, whose net worth is estimated at $13.6 million and who clearly has the ability to repay the full cost of these flights, offered only to reimburse the government $52,000, which reveals insensitivity to listening taxpayers.

Congress should step in and place limitations on official travel. Trump needs to think harder about his promise to drain the swamp and reform Washington, D.C. politics.  An abuse, like these charter flights, indicates the people on Trump’s team are living high and mighty and they don’t really care how it appears. Trump’s administration is out of touch with the grassroots. The public’s negative reaction to these examples is fair criticism and should be treated as such.