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Congressman Ted Lieu

Representing the 33rd District of California

The Hill: Democrats unveil bills to ban Cabinet members’ private jet travel

September 28, 2017
In The News

House Democrats introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent Trump administration officials from using private jets on the taxpayers’ dime as multiple Cabinet heads come under fire for the practice.

Two groups of Democrats unveiled bills with correspondingly flashy titles.

Progressive Reps. Ted Lieu (Calif.), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), Jamie Raskin (Md.) and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) put forth the Swamp Flyers Act, while centrist Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.) and Kurt Schrader (Ore.) offered the Taxpayers Don’t Incur Meaningless Expenses (Taxpayers DIME) Act.

The Swamp Flyers Act prohibits executive branch officials from using private jets with taxpayer funds unless they certify that no commercial flights were available. The Taxpayers DIME Act, meanwhile, ensures that senior federal officials can’t spend more funds on travel than is necessary and directs the Office of Government Ethics to report on ways to enhance current rules.

“We're here to serve our neighbors back at home, not lavish their hard-earned dollars on personal luxury. If that's too much to ask, then go home — and fly commercial,” Schrader said in a statement.

Politico unveiled in a series of reports that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price has spent more than $400,000 on charter jets since May, despite the availability of multiple lower-cost commercial flights.

Price has said he would halt his charter jet use amid an HHS inspector general review of his travel practices.

Two other Cabinet officials have also faced criticism for private plane use. The Treasury inspector general is reviewing department head Steven Mnuchin’s use of a private jet in August, as well as why he requested a government plane to take him and his wife, Louise Linton, on their European honeymoon.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has also been using private planes for government duties. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Pruitt’s private flights have cost taxpayers more than $58,000.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), sent letters to the White House and federal agencies on Wednesday requesting informationabout officials’ use of government or noncommercial aircraft.

Introduction of the bills on Thursday came after five Democrats — the four authors of the Swamp Flyers Act plus Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) — called for Price’s resignation.

Lieu, Gallego and Raskin gathered on the House floor on Thursday afternoon to promote their bill, alongside charts with pictures of an airplane and Price calling Cabinet officials’ use of private jets in 2009 “just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok.”

"Wide shot of Price posters on the House floor right now. @RepRaskin (left) and @RepTedLieu (right)" @FloorCharts 

“Clearly when it comes to travel on taxpayers’ dime, the price does not matter to Tom Price,” Gallego said.

A spokeswoman for HHS told The Washington Post that the use of private jets were justified because “[w]asting four hours in an airport and having the secretary cancel his event is not a good use of taxpayer money.”

Lieu scoffed at the explanation.

“Yes, he should be waiting four hours at the airport because that’s what other Americans do,” he said.