House Republican leaders have scheduled a Thursday vote on an anti-carbon tax resolution in hopes of putting vulnerable Democrats on record in favor of the tax, but they’re going to put some of their own members in a tough spot too.
“I’m voting against that,” Florida GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, said of the resolution, which expresses the sense of Congress that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”
Roll Call includes Curbelo on its list of the 10 most vulnerable House Republicans. Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales rates his race Tilt Republican.
Curbelo has drafted legislation he plans to introduce soon that would halt federal regulations on climate change in exchange for an escalating tax on carbon emissions, according to E&E News.
Whether Curbelo will be the lone Republican “no” vote on Thursday remains to be seen, but he’s hoping that other members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus he co-chairs with Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch vote against the anti-carbon tax resolution too.
The Climate Solution Caucus has 84 members, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The group’s mission is to “educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and to explore bipartisan policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.”
Deutch issued a statement Tuesday urging the caucus to vote against the resolution, which is authored by Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. “This is an important moment for the Climate Solutions Caucus to show the American people that Democrats and Republicans can stand together against anti-climate efforts,” he said. “It is the very mission of the caucus to explore all viable options to address the growing threat of climate change.”
Deutch also took a dig at Scalise, saying, “When a climate denier who represents the oil industry tries to squash even a discussion about a possible strategy for curbing emissions, my caucus colleagues must rise above politics and do what’s right.”
The Climate Solutions Caucus is unlikely to be united in support of a carbon tax. Most House Republicans have taken pledges upon being elected to Congress promising not to impose new taxes.
Scalise admitted Tuesday that the point of the vote was to have everyone on record on the issue.
“There are still people talking about trying to impose a carbon tax, which would be devastating to our manufacturing economy, one of the great bright spots we see in our economy, where we’re bringing jobs back to America, rebuilding our middle class,” he said. “A carbon tax would destroy that.”
Democratic senators gearing up for competitive re-elections tend to have whiter staffs, according to a Roll Call analysis of data released by Senate Democrats.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who finds himself in a race rated Tilts Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, has a staff that is 93 percent white. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, also in a Tilts Democratic contest, was just behind him, at 92 percent.
Those numbers mirror the demographics of their home states, where 86 percent and 92 percent of people, respectively, are white.
This trend is not necessarily caused by the political leanings of the state. Several factors affect senators’ hiring decisions. A stronger link, for example, exists between the racial makeup of a senator’s home state and the diversity on his or her staff.
The Pine Tree State has the whitest population of any state — 93 percent, according to Census Bureau estimates from 2016.
Diversity in King’s office has decreased since last year, when he had 11 percent of his staffers were non-Caucasian.
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz has the most diverse office in the Senate Democratic Conference.
Non-Caucasians make up 72 percent of his staffers. His office’s diversity comes mainly from Asian or Pacific Islander staffers, who account for 59 percent.
Schatz also had the most non-Caucasian staffers in 2017, with 66 percent.
There are some notable outliers, though. Not all Senate staffs closely align with the demographics of their state.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who faces a fellow Democrat in November in her bid for a fifth term, has a staff that is 32 percent non-Caucasian — slightly lower than the average for the conference. That’s despite the fact that Feinstein represents one of the least white states in the country.
California’s junior senator, Kamala Harris, by contrast, has the second least Caucasian office among Senate Democrats, with a 66 percent nonwhite staff. Her office is diverse across the board at 26 percent Latino, 26 percent black or African-American, 14 percent Asian or Pacific Islander and 3 percent Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker goes against the trend in the opposite way: His staff is less white than those of other senators from states with similar diversity levels. He has the third-most nonwhite staff, with 63 percent.
Last year, Tester had the least diverse office, with 93 percent white staffers, and Manchin was second-least diverse, with 91 percent.
Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Connecticut and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire are tied for the most female staffers this year, both at 67 percent, according to the data collected through the Senate Democrats’ Diversity Initiative. Both senators have increased their numbers since 2017, when Van Hollen had 64 percent female staffers and Hassan had 55 percent.
Last year, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez had the most male staffers at 60 percent. This year, no Democratic Senate office cracked that number.
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While some offices may seem to be lagging behind when it comes to diversity, publicly releasing this data is considered a breakthrough in Congress. There is no rule that mandates congressional offices to provide data on the racial and ethnic makeup of its staff for the public record.
Lorenzo Olvera, the Diversity Initiative director who reports to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, first collected the data last year. He and his team, which includes a deputy director, research aide and interns, sent out a voluntary survey, which the full conference agreed to complete.
The initiative dates back to 2007, but the data collection and establishment of the so-called Rooney Rule — encouraging offices to consider at least one minority candidate when interviewing for an open position, just as the NFL does in filling coaching vacancies — was a Schumer mandate.
Staffers of Middle Eastern or North African origin are the least represented demographic among Senate Democratic offices, according to the data. Twenty-four of the 49 offices have no Middle Eastern staffers.
Twenty-three offices have no Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native staffers — all of whom the data reports in one group.
The Hawaiian senators — Schatz and Mazie Hirono — have the most from this group on staff, with 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively. No other office breaks 10 percent.
Executives from the world’s top social media companies tried to reassure Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that their platforms do not censor or control conservative content and commentary, contrary to assertions by some lawmakers about the companies’ practices.
While social media companies such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have been removing false accounts, fake ads, and banning foreign government-owned propaganda outlets, lawmakers said some of them also have been restricting conservative content.
There are “numerous stories in the news of content that’s still being unfairly restricted,” Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said in his opening remarks at the hearing to examine the content filtering practices of social media companies. “For example, Facebook automatically blocked a post from a Texas newspaper that it claimed contained hate speech” when in fact the newspaper had published the Declaration of Independence just before Independence Day on July 4, Goodlatte said.
In a committee hearing held in April to examine the same topic, Goodlatte said that while social media companies were “exercising great care and discretion to ensure that their services are not abused,” there is a “fine line between removing illegal activity and suppressing free speech.”
Goodlatte and other Republicans on the panel at Tuesday’s hearing also pushed company executives to say why content on their platforms cannot be considered as publishing or broadcasting and therefore subject to rules that apply to television and other broadcasting platforms.
Laws, including Sec. 230 of the Telecommunications Communications Act (PL 104-104) that says providers of internet services shall not be treated as publishers, may need to be reexamined, Goodlatte said. And operators of social media platforms need to “do a better job explaining how they make decisions to filter content and the rationale for why they do so,” he said.
Company executives said they use a combination of advanced artificial intelligence-based technologies and human operators to monitor and filter content that may violate company rules.
“Our policies do not target particular political beliefs,” Jennifer Downs, director of public policy and government relations at YouTube told the committee. “To determine when videos should be removed, demonetized, or age restricted, we look at the context, including whether content is clearly documentary, educational, or satirical.”
At Facebook, which has hired thousands of fact checkers, “discussing controversial topics or espousing a debated point of view is not at odds with our community standards,” said Monika Bickert, the company’s vice president for global policy told the committee.
Twitter, which has been removing hundreds of thousands of fake accounts and bots operated by Russian troll factories, is making sure legitimate voices can be heard, Nick Pickles, senior strategist at Twitter told the committee.
“Due to technology and process improvements during the past year, we are now removing 214 percent more accounts for violating our spam policies on a year-on-year basis,” Pickles said. “At the same time, the average number of spam reports we received through our reporting flow continued to drop — from an average of approximately 25,000 per day in March, to approximately 17,000 per day in May. We’ve also seen a 10 percent drop in spam reports from search as a result of our recent changes.”
Democrats on the committee said Republicans should be more concerned about President Donald Trump’s comments at the news conference in Helsinki where he backed Russian President Vladimir Putin while challenging U.S. intelligence agency assessments that the Kremlin had interfered in the 2016 election.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the panel, offered a motion that the committee hold a closed door hearing to examine evidence from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s latest indictment in light of Trump’s dismissal of U.S. intelligence findings. But the motion was rejected 10-12 on a party line vote.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said the hearing was “motivated by a sense of persecution by Republicans and conservatives, when they have a majority” in Congress, and won the White House. Lofgren cited analysis that showed conservative views have three times more user engagement on social media platforms than liberal views. She said Republicans have not provided any evidence of bias against conservative views on social media platforms.
Nevertheless, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Google’s practice of scraping information from sites like Wikipedia and others and offering it up to users searching for information, instead of just providing links, means that Google and others could be made responsible for content on their platform and should be subject “to litigation under the standards of care that other media are held to.”
Facebook’s Bickert and YouTube’s Downs said that the protection offered to internet and online companies under current law is essential and has enabled their companies and others to thrive. Both of them said that social media companies only enable content created by users to be disseminated through their platforms.
The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said Tuesday that public pressure in support of expanded work requirements for food stamp recipients could help move Senate negotiators on the 2018 farm bill toward accepting the House legislation.
“I need 70 percent of Democrats in this world who believe work requirements are a proper thing and 90 percent of Republicans in this world who believe work requirements are a proper thing to tell their senator, ‘Hey, that work requirement makes a lot of sense,’” Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway told the audience at an Axios forum.
The Texas Republican said he is ready to go to conference on the farm bill with the Senate soon. The schedule for voting on a motion to go to conference is shifting, he said, because ranking member Collin C. Peterson has to be in his district on Thursday. The vote could take place Wednesday or be delayed until July 23, Conaway said.
The vote on the motion would be to reject Senate changes to the House bill and request negotiations to develop a compromise bill. The goal is to produce a final bill that sets policies for farm, conservation, crop insurance, rural development and other programs before the current farm law expires Sept. 30.
Once the House votes to start negotiations, Conaway said the Senate is expected to respond quickly and agree to the motion. Each chamber would then name conferees, but Conaway, Peterson and their Senate counterparts, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, are expected to be the primary negotiators.
The Senate version of the farm bill, however, does not include new work requirements. Many states already have work requirements, Roberts and Stabenow said during a CQ on Congress podcast last week.
“The House bill takes $8 billion and sends it to the states,” Roberts said. “I don’t know who is going to implement this. I don’t know who in the Department of Agriculture has the capability to send that money out to states. ... Who is going to conduct the job training?”
In light of the ongoing trade disputes that are threatening U.S. exports, a new farm bill would provide anxious farmers and ranchers with a safety net, Roberts added. “Any other issue that comes up ... that has to come secondary to our overall mission, which is again to provide our farmers predictability and certainty.”
Roberts and Conaway agree that getting the farm bill done by September is important to provide a sense of stability to farmers.
The most sharply contested difference between the House and Senate farm bill versions is the treatment of work requirements under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program.
In the CQ on Congress podcast interview, Roberts and Stabenow said they believe they have found a pragmatic and workable approach to SNAP.
The Senate bill keeps the current 20-hour work requirements for able-bodied adults and would incorporate findings from 10 state demonstration projects that are trying to incorporate work and education requirements for working-age adults. The bill would fund an additional eight state pilot projects that focus on SNAP recipients with problems finding work.
The legislation would make it easier for state agencies to work with the private sector in training SNAP recipients for jobs. It would also end a bonus program that rewarded states with low error rates in benefit payments because of Justice Department concerns that several states manipulated data to collect rewards.
The House bill would expand work requirements to able-bodied adults ages 18 to 59 so that they keep their food benefits, requiring at least 20 hours a week of work that would be increased to 25 hours a week. The legislation also would tighten eligibility requirements, change the way monthly benefits are calculated and shift billions of dollars from food benefits into funding for state SNAP job-training and education programs.
Nineteen members of Congress spoke Tuesday against the Commerce Department’s tariffs on Canadian newsprint, telling the U.S. International Trade Commission the import tax hurt local newspapers.
The bipartisan group of legislators asked the ITC to reverse tariffs the Commerce Department imposed on Canadian newsprint imports. Opponents of the tariffs say they would deal a major blow to local newspapers, which already struggle to stay afloat, by increasing the cost of newsprint.
The tariffs already substantially increase the cost of newsprint, leading newspapers to shrink the size of their pages and plan for job cuts in response, the lawmakers said. The tariffs would hasten the decline of local news, they said, harming journalists and communities served by small local publications rather than major newspapers.
“In these communities, there are no big newspapers to bring people their local news,” said Rep. John Moolenaar, a Republican from Michigan. “These tariffs, if continued, would do lasting damage to these local institutions.”
The Commerce Department imposed tariffs in March on Canadian newsprint or uncoated groundwood paper. The department’s action came after the North Pacific Paper Company, a mill in Washington state, complained that Canadian manufacturers were harming their business by selling newsprint at non-competitive prices. The ITC held today’s hearing while it reviews the tariffs.
Tariffs have been a point of friction between the Trump administration and Congress, including some Republicans, who traditionally favor free trade with minimal government interference.
At Tuesday’s hearing, legislators said the news media’s shift to digital platforms is chiefly responsible for declining business for paper mills, not the cost of Canadian groundwood paper. The tariffs may create some jobs at North Pacific Paper Company, but would cause lost jobs across the country, lawmakers said.
Speakers against the tariffs included House Republican Conference chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Alaska and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. The group comprised 13 Republicans, five Democrats and independent Maine Sen. Angus King.
Collins was the first to raise the issue in Congress. Several of the testifying lawmakers noted it is unusual to find agreement across the aisle on economic matters.
A representative for the North Pacific Paper Company, the petitioner for the tariffs, said the tariffs have allowed paper mills to ramp up production and re-hire American workers.
But King said the tariff on newsprint is a cure “worse than the disease,” and asked the commissioners to think of the issue as the local newspapers “that will be one inch smaller next year.”
Lawmakers noted the issue of tariff-driven cost increases are particularly sensitive in the newspaper business, given the impact on independent journalism.
“The freedom of the press is one of the central tenets of the First Amendment,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., said.
The publishing industries employ about 600,000 people in the United States, according to Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers, a group of companies in the printing and publishing industry leading the charge against the newsprint tariffs.
The group says 11,000 people from all 50 states have signed a petition against the tariffs, and more than 80 members of Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, have raised concerns.
Rep. Linda Sánchez is running for Democratic Caucus chair, officially announcing her plans Tuesday in a Dear Colleague letter Tuesday to House Democrats.
The California Democrat currently is vice chairwoman of the caucus. She is looking to move up now that Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York lost his primary and thus won’t be running for leadership again.
“It has been an honor to work with Chairman Crowley to ensure that the Caucus is responsive to the needs of every member,” Sánchez said in her letter. “I am encouraged by the conversations I have had with many members about continuing that work, and I am pleased to announce that I will run for House Democratic Caucus Chair for the 116th Congress.”
Crowley issued a statement Tuesday seemingly endorsing Sanchez to succeed him.
“Linda Sánchez is a dear friend, a battle-tested member, and a fierce advocate for working families,” he said. “As my partner in leading the House Democratic Caucus, Linda has helped expand the caucus’ outreach and services for our members and has been an insightful voice in developing strategy and messaging. She is an extremely valuable part of the Democratic leadership team and has a bright future in our caucus.”
Sanchez is the first lawmaker of either party to formally announce a campaign for a leadership position. The Democratic Caucus is expected to hold leadership elections sometime after Thanksgiving.
More than a dozen House Democrats are considering running for leadership, although few have specified specific positions of interest.
Two other California Democrats, Reps. Barbara Lee and Eric Swalwell, have also expressed interest in running for caucus chair. Lee ran against Sánchez for vice chair in 2016 and lost by just two votes.
Several House Democrats have said they don’t want to think about leadership elections while they’re focused on taking back the House in November, but Sánchez made the case for why she’s announcing her bid now.
“If the American people instill their trust in House Democrats, we must show them that we are ready to lead on the first day,” she said. “A new Congress gives us the opportunity to take a full assessment of what changes we need to make to ensure our success going forward. However, it is clear that if we wait until next year to have these discussions it will be too late. We must prepare now.”
Sánchez raised eyebrows last year when she openly called for a generational change in leadership. She stood by that position last week in a conversation with reporters.
“There is a real breadth and depth of talent in our caucus. And I do think that having the top three leadership of the same generation, I think it’s time for that generational change,” she said. “And whether there’s transition or not remains to be seen. I want to be part of that transition because I don’t intend to stay in Congress until I’m in my 70s.”
In her letter to House Democrats, Sánchez noted that she is glad they’ve started conversations about how the caucus should function to increase opportunities for all members. She welcomed her colleagues to share ideas with her along those lines.
“Leadership is about serving others, not serving yourself,” Sánchez said. “As caucus chair, I will continue to work collaboratively and inclusively to utilize the full range of talent on our team. I am committed to doing everything I can to put the Democratic Caucus in the strongest position as we fight to take back the majority and maintain it for years to come.”
What’s the quickest way to find out whether the House is in session? What committee hearings are scheduled? The name of a district’s congressional representative?
Soon, you might be able to ask Alexa.
A project in the House Clerk’s office would make it as easy to get information about Congress from a voice-activated smart speaker as it is to ask about the weather.
“This data should be usable and user-friendly,” said Sean Conaghan, a clerk’s office employee who demonstrated a pilot program Thursday at a conference devoted to data transparency in Congress.
The clerk’s office already stockpiles information on the internet, but much of it is in formats like JSON and XML that are not in general use. “We were thinking, how could we make this more publicly available and of more interest to the public?” he said.
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Conaghan said the project started as a joke among colleagues. Wouldn’t it be great, they thought, if they could find out whether they could wear jeans to work — frowned upon when Congress is in session — as they hit their snooze buttons in the morning.
Turns out, a lot of people thought the same thing. A version he and his co-workers created as an internal team-building exercise has sparked interest among other offices, bringing with it the possibility that the project might expand and eventually be introduced to the public on an array of platforms including the popular Amazon service, he said.
Conaghan demonstrated the potential from the podium.
He asked his device, “Alexa, ask US House, is the House in session today.” The anodyne, female voice responded: “the House is currently in session. The last action is, the speaker announced that the House will now recess.” And the crowd of about 100 burst into enthusiastic applause.
Granted, these were people who had signed up for eight hours of presentations about “how agencies use technology well and how they can use it better in the future.”
But Conaghan said he was soliciting ideas for features that would make the program useful for a wider audience.
Such an embrace of new technology would be unusual on the Hill, but it’s not unheard of. Another decision in the House — the post-9-11 distribution of BlackBerries to all member offices — is widely considered to have sparked the smartphone revolution in Washington.
Whether the Alexa project will become such a game-changer remains to be seen, but there is a clear market. More than 43 million people in the United States own a smart speaker, according to NPR’s smart audio report—a count that may soon eclipse the number of people who could name their local representative.
House Republicans have abandoned a plan to vote on a Democrat-sponsored bill to terminate the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency after the bill’s authors said they and their colleagues would vote against it.
But GOP leaders are still planning to hold a vote on a resolution by Louisiana GOP Rep. Clay Higgins expressing the House’s support for all ICE officers and personnel and denouncing calls to completely abolish the agency.
The vote on Higgin’s resolution will occur Wednesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. It will be brought up under an expedited procedure known as suspension of the rules, which requires two-thirds support for passage.
The other bill Republicans had been planning a vote on would have terminated ICE within a year of Congress enacting “a humane immigration enforcement system” to be designed by a commission the legislation would establish. The measure was introduced Thursday by Progressive Caucus Co-chair Mark Pocan and members Pramila Jayapal and Adriano Espaillat.
McCarthy said “it was very shocking” they would introduce a bill and then turn around and say they’d vote against it after he offered to bring it to the floor for debate.
Pocan, Jayapal and Espaillat had said they’d vote against their bill because Republicans were going to bring it up for political messaging purposes, not actually with intentions to pass it. They said they stood by the policy.
McCarthy suggested that Higgins’ resolution accomplishes the same goal in putting Democrats on record on whether they want to abolish ICE.
Speaking minutes before McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise said he wasn’t sure what had been decided or scheduled regarding the two ICE measures but that he supported putting Democrats on record on the matter.
“I know there is a lot of concern about what the Democrats are saying about their interest in abolishing ICE,” the Louisiana Republican said. “I think it’s a radical idea. It seems like they’re having an internal fight over where they really stand on it.”
Asked if Democrats saying they wouldn’t vote against their own bill was a reason not to vote on that one, Scalise said, “It’s one thing for them to say that, but to vote against your own bill on the House floor looks like you’re just playing political games with our national security. And I don’t think that’s a responsible place to be.”
In a sign that the ICE messaging votes were still fluid, McCarthy had not mentioned either on his weekly schedule released Friday evening.
A GOP aide said discussion had continued into the weekend and a final decision on scheduling was made Monday.
But GOP leaders had been monitoring the abolish ICE movement for weeks. McCarthy had brought it up during a GOP conference weeks ago as something they should keep an eye on and during last week’s conference meeting floated the idea of a floor vote.
When the Progressive Caucus members released their bill Thursday, Scalise brought up the idea of voting on that specific bill in various meetings held that day.
Later Thursday McCarthy told reporters that the House would have a debate on the Democrats’ bill before the August recess.
Democrats reacted quickly to that news saying they would vote against the bill and turn the debate into a discussion on family separations at the border and lack of legislation to permanently address that.
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Some rank-and-file Republicans had questioned the wisdom of holding the messaging votes on ICE, particularly after Democrats said they’d vote against their bill. But others felt it still would have been useful to have Democrats on record voting against a measure they introduced.
MJ Hegar, who is challenging Texas Rep. John Carter, outraised the incumbent nearly 4-1 in the most recent fundraising quarter, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
Hegar, a U.S. Air Force veteran, announced her campaign raised $1.1 million in the last fundraising quarter while Carter raised $265,725.
Hegar’s campaign said in a news release that $750,000 came in the 10 days after she released a video chronicling her experience in the military and facing sexism at the Pentagon.
In the ad, Hegar said Carter’s office told her that he was not able to help her when she was trying to lift a ban women serving in ground combat jobs because she was a woman because she wasn’t one of his donors.
Todd Olsen, a spokesman for Carter’s campaign, told Politifact that Hegar’s claims that she requested a meeting with Carter and that he refused because she was not a donor were “absolutely untrue.”
Hegar’s campaign also reported having $867,266 in cash on hand compared to Carter's $537,561 at the end of the quarter.
A news release from Hegar’s campaign said 94 percent of her donors were small donors.
“The thousands of people who are supporting our campaign show that it is time to show the door to politicians who care more about campaign donors and political parties than protecting our country,” she said.
But Hegar still has an uphill climb.
Carter won his last election in 2016 with 58.4 percent of the vote and his Democratic challenger only won 36.5 percent. President Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the district by more than 12 points.
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A federal watchdog is recommending the Department of Health and Human Services recoup $341,000 associated with former Secretary Tom Price’s travel expenses.
The HHS Office of the Inspector General released Thursday an audit that found 20 of 21 trips Price and other HHS officials took during his time in office did not comply with federal requirements. Price, a hardline fiscal conservative during his time in Congress, resigned last September after it was revealed that he regularly chartered private planes for routine business trips.
The report suggests Price and his wife would have to reimburse the government for any of their personal travel taken on government aircraft that Price had not already repaid.
The 21 trips for Price and his staff cost taxpayers a total of $1.2 million, the OIG found, including “at least” $341,000 in wasteful spending. Price repaid nearly $52,000 for his seat on the planes and another $7,500 for bringing his wife on several trips.
The OIG found HHS often did not compare costs between taking chartered flights and commercial flights. When HHS booked chartered travel, the department occasionally did not use the lowest quoted price. For an Aug. 25 trip to Seattle, for example, HHS received one quote at $75,829, but booked another plane at $121,500.
OIG outlined a number of specific areas where HHS should “take appropriate administrative actions” to recoup spending. But HHS said it’s not clear that recouping the money is “legally appropriate” and that it’s continuing to review the matter.
OIG also recommended HHS institute better regulations and training for employees regarding business travel, to which the department agreed. Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, who served as acting secretary after Price’s resignation, said HHS has since established the “most rigorous controls on travel in the organization’s history.”
“Reviews like this are an important part of any organization’s efforts to ensure that best practices are being utilized,” Hargan said in a statement. “The department understands the auditor’s concern that the processes and record keeping regarding travel could have been more comprehensive, and, since the period examined by the audit, HHS has instituted new travel review procedures applicable to all political appointees.”
Hargan noted, however, that Price did not break the law.
“As a matter of law, none of the travel at issue was unauthorized,” he said.
Revelations about Price’s travel triggered investigations into irresponsible expenditures from other Trump cabinet members, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and former Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Scott Pruitt, who resigned last week.
Democrats reacted quickly to the HHS OIG report.
“This report confirms Tom Price’s role as the poster child for the rampant waste of taxpayer dollars that has occurred on Trump’s watch — all while he was pursuing dangerous policies that increase families’ premiums and weaken their health care,” said Finance Committee top Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon. “This unseemly saga is a reminder of why public officials need to be carefully scrutinized before the Senate places them in positions of enormous responsibility.”