By Gavin Frame
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, whose resignation from Congress prompted the most expensive house race in U.S. history, has joined Steve Bannon and Sean Spicer as President Trump’s most recently ousted advisor. The former U.S. congressman from Georgia’s sixth congressional district came under fire after a Politico report revealed that Price had chosen to fly expensive chartered planes several times when commercial flights were a viably cheap alternative. Later reports uncovered the scope of Price’s opulent travel preferences, revealing that the former secretary had also frequently used military flights to travel to Europe and Asia. This brought the estimated cost of Price’s flights to over one million dollars. Price had earned a reputation for fiscal conservatism during his time as a congressman and his apparent hypocrisy shocked friend and foe alike. Already subject to scorn from the President who appointed him due to Republicans’ most recent failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Price’s prospects in the Trump administration seemed dim until finally he announced his resignation on Friday, September 29th.
Despite the fact that Price’s tenure was expeditiously terminated, lawmakers are still investigating other members of Trump’s cabinet for their own alleged misuse of taxpayer funds on travel expenses. Among those are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who reportedly had a splendid view of the recent solar eclipse from a government plane on his way to Kentucky. Mnuchin also requested the use of a government plane on the date of his honeymoon, although this request was eventually withdrawn.
Candidates are lining up to fill Price’s vacancy, currently being filled by acting secretary Don Wright. Seema Verma is seen as the most likely choice for a permanent replacement. Since her role in drafting Indiana’s Medicaid plan, called the Healthy Indiana Plan, for former governor Mitch Daniels, Verma remained a vital policy advisor to both Daniels and his successor Mike Pence. Verma has since been appointed the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, serving under President Trump. Her past relationship with Vice President Pence and her already significant role in the administration make Verma an obvious choice to fill Price’s chair. However, she is not the only option for President Trump. Scott Gottlieb, the current commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, has also been considered for the role. As a trained physician with a wealth of policy experience through various FDA positions, Gottlieb could serve as a viable alternative should Verma not be nominated.
As for the former secretary himself, the future looks bleak. Price’s former seat in the House of Representatives has already been filled by Republican Karen Handel, which makes it unlikely Price will attempt to steal away his old office. Outside of his letter of resignation, Price has not made any announcements regarding his future – saying only that he “will continue to support your [President Trump’s] critical priorities going ahead because failure is not an option for the American people.” It is impossible to speculate what the 63-year-old physician will pursue next, but the most likely scenario seems to be Former Secretary Price taking a premature retirement.
Some critics are grateful for Price’s departure, mainly due to his strict partisan preferences. Price was reportedly reluctant to work with Democrats on healthcare and would have served as an obstacle for the administration as it looks towards the increasing need to find a bipartisan solution. Seema Verma has been commended for her adherence to good policy outside of partisan ideology. Former CMS administrator Tom Scully praised her, saying she is “likely to develop the solid bipartisan relationships” needed to run the department. This willingness to work across party lines could prove essential to crafting a healthcare proposal to satisfy both Republicans and Democrats and provide President Trump an elusive policy victory in healthcare.
Former Secretary Price will, at minimum, serve as a cautionary tale to current and former administrators who justifiably despise commercial airlines. For now, it seems that Price’s legacy will consist of a tarnished reputation and an ongoing congressional inquiry. But with many optimistic for the possibilities presented by a new to-be-announced Health and Human Services Secretary, there seems to be a silver lining much akin to the lovely clouded views Price surely had on his many flights. The new future of healthcare under President Trump is imminent and the American people need only wait to see who will become the face of this new direction.