Tag Archives: HHS

Kelly expands his WH footprint

It’s been a bad week for Donald John Trump.

His effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act collapsed; an Alabama special Republican primary election nominated someone other than the guy Trump endorsed; the government’s response to Hurricane Maria’s wrath has been called into serious question; then the health and human services secretary “resigned” over a growing controversy involving his expensive travel habits.

Caught in the midst of this maelstrom is White House chief of staff John Kelly. I want to discuss briefly Kelly’s impact on the final element of Trump’s bad week, the ouster of HHS Secretary Tom Price.

Kelly has instituted some new rules regarding official travel of Cabinet officials and senior administration staffers. So, the retired Marine general is making his presence felt once again.

Kelly is one Trump appointment who’s had a net positive impact on the administration. I am glad to see him at his new post and hope he can continue to build some semblance of order in a seriously dysfunctional White House.

Kelly calls the travel shots

They will need approval from the chief of staff, according to Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. I am willing to bet the farm that Kelly insisted on gaining that approval. Price had abused his position by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money in expensive charter air travel.

Gen. Kelly has made his mark. He’ll keep making his mark as long as the president will allow him. He won’t eclipse the president, whose ego won’t allow it. The question that keeps cropping up in my own mind is whether Trump will entrust him to do his job.

The ‘swamp’ is draining … finally?

Tom Price is not a political whippersnapper. He’s not wet behind the ears. He’s been around Washington, D.C., first as a member of Congress and then — until today — as secretary of health and human services.

Dr. Price quit his HHS Cabinet job in the wake of boiling controversy involving his use of private aircraft that taxpayers paid for. It smacked of a spendthrift philosophy that smacked Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” in D.C. squarely in the face.

Price’s travel expenses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He had promised to pay back $52,000, which amounted to a fraction of the bill he ran up flying aboard private charter jets rather than commercial airlines, which had been the custom over many previous administrations.

Price is now gone. He resigned today. Is the proverbial “swamp” now starting to drain? Well, I’m not holding my breath just yet.

Price once complained loudly against then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of “luxury jets” while she flew around the country. Then he gets caught doing something quite similar, if not identical, to what he accused Pelosi of doing.

It all kind of reminds me of how another House speaker, Newt Gingrich, wailed and railed against President Bill Clinton for his affair with the White House intern in the late 1990s — while at the same time Newt was taking a tumble with a congressional staff member while he was married to someone else.

Sigh …

Where do we go from here? The president has made precious few wise moves since stepping into the Oval Office. One of them is his hiring of John Kelly as White House chief of staff. Indeed, it appears quite likely that Gen. Kelly had a hand in Dr. Price’s resignation. Moreover, it also is being reported that Kelly’s fingerprints appear to be all over a new White House directive that mandates that all Cabinet officers and senior staffers clear their travel plans with Kelly and White House legal counsel.

Price’s departure is not a surprise, given the president’s own expressions of anger over the revelation about the former secretar’s travel habits.

The Trump administration, though, needs to pull a lot more plugs at the bottom of that “swamp” to ensure it gets drained.

HHS boss grounds those spendy private jets

There’s some of this going around the Trump administration.

The “this” is a penchant for spending lots of money needlessly. Taxpayer money, at that!

The latest perp happens to be Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price, who until just this weekend had been using private jets to travel to hither and yon to do the public’s business. What’s more, the public has been picking up the tab.

Secretary Price has grounded the private jets pending a government review of the practice. “We’ve heard the criticism. We’ve heard the concerns. We take that very seriously and have taken it to heart,” Price said.

Fair enough. This is a bad habit that has emerged during Donald J. Trump’s time in the White House.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wanted the federal government to fly him and his new bride to a honeymoon location. I took note of that request in an earlier post and pointed out that Mnuchin is worth an estimated cool $500 million. I believe he could afford to pay for his own air transportation, although the secretary did mention “security concerns” as his reason for seeking government travel.

Back to Price for a moment.

Price’s travel habits came under scrutiny from Politico, which reportedly identified about $400,000 in private jet travel by Price since he took office earlier this year. Price hasn’t defended his use of private jets; indeed, he acknowledges the “optics don’t look good.”

While he was a Republican member of Congress, Price criticized then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of luxury jets to fly around the country. Pelosi in fact had access to government air travel, given that at the tsheecond in line of succession to the presidency. She was criticized correctly for her use of the luxury aircraft.

As Politico  has reported, Price’s use of these private jets breaks with recent custom: Price’s use ivate jets breaks with the practices of Obama administration HHS secretaries Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially while in the continental United States and deliberately avoided taking charter jets. HHS staff last year scrapped a proposal for Burwell to take a multi-city tour linked to the kickoff of annual Obamacare enrollment because the trip would have required charter aircraft and cost about $60,000. 

I just want to offer a word of caution here.

Everyone, it seems, is mindful these days of profligate spending at all levels of government. Secretary Price needs to re-calibrate his public-relations radar to ensure he can avoid getting caught in this PR trap. Don’t blow the public’s cash for the sake of convenience.

Dr. Carson changes his mind; he is ‘qualified’ after all

dr-carson

Was I hearing things a week after the presidential election?

I could swear I heard — and read — something from Dr. Ben Carson and his closest associates in which he declared he didn’t want a job in Donald J. Trump’s Cabinet because, in Carson’s view, he wasn’t qualified to run a federal agency.

That’s not his skill set … supposedly.

Carson opts out of Cabinet post … but why?

Carson ran for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and was one of 16 pretenders to get crushed by the Trump juggernaut.

So, what precisely is Dr. Carson’s skill? He’s a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon. He has performed what amount to medical miracles on children in need of them. His brilliance as an MD is beyond reproach.

Now, though, he’s being tossed into a brand new arena. Trump has nominated him to run the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

I don’t understand this choice.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-taps-former-campaign-rival-carson-as-housing-secretary/ar-AAl9QAE?li=BBnb7Kz

As The Associated Press reported: “In a statement, Trump says he’s ‘thrilled to nominate’ Carson, saying he “has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities.” Great! Does the passion qualify him to manage a massive federal agency? Time will reveal that in due course.

If the president-elect were to ask me, I’d say Carson would be a better fit as secretary of health and human services or as surgeon general. Trump seek my advice.

As for his ability to run HUD, I’ll just suggest that managing a massive federal bureaucracy ain’t exactly brain surgery … if you get my drift.

Oops! GOP governor tells truth, then backs off

Hey, I always thought Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich was a straight shooter.

Turns out he needs to get his sights re-set.

Kasich told The Associated Press that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is here to stay, that Republicans have no hope of repealing it, even if they win control of the U.S. Senate after the Nov. 4 mid-term election.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/20/politics/kasich-obamacare-here-to-stay/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

‘AP reported this: “‘The opposition to it was really either political or ideological,’ Kasich said of Obamacare. “I don’t think that holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people’s lives.'”

That sounds pretty darn reasonable. But wait! Gov. Kasich’s people said AP got it wrong. The governor was referring to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.

The ACA should be repealed and replaced, the governor’s office said — speaking for Kasich.

Here’s the deal, folks.

The ACA is working. Millions of Americans have signed up for health insurance who didn’t have it before. It’s providing comfort to those who prior to the law’s enactment couldn’t afford to be insured.

The ACA rollout was a Keystone Kops affair, to be sure. The computerized system crashed. It was a mess.

Then it got fixed. Yes, the rollout likely caused Kathleen Sebelius her job as health and human services secretary.

I’ll stick with Kasich’s initial view that repeal of the ACA ain’t going to happen.

Congressional Republicans, I’m quite certain, will have no trouble finding other issues with which to pick fights with the president. It’s in their DNA.

Burwell a lock for HHS boss, but first …

Sylvia Mathews Burwell should be able to skate easily from her job as head of the Office of Management and Budget into her new post as health and human services secretary.

She’ll likely get there, but it will be far from an smooth ride from one high-powered government job to another.

You see, the U.S. Senate — which already has confirmed her to the OMB job — will have this other issue to continue litigating. It’s called the Affordable Care Act. Burwell is now the newest woman on the hot seat in that matter, given that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has resigned and is likely headed back to Kansas.

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/04/sylvia-mathews-burwell-democrats-obamacare-affordable-care-act-105641.html?hp=l4

Sebelius came under intense fire for the handling of the ACA rollout and the collapse of the Healthcare.gov website when the enrollment opened up in January. It all happened on her watch at HHS and she deserved a lot of the pounding she received.

Now she’s on her way out, apparently with few expressions of regret from the White House at her departure.

Burwell is known to be a cool customer who will be able to handle Republican senators’ expected tough grilling during her confirmation hearing. She’ll need all the coolness she can muster, as GOP senators likely are going to beat the daylights out of her over how she intends to implement an established law that Republicans still hate with a passion.

So, as with everything political these days, what’s supposed to be an easy transition will resemble something quite different. Hold on tightly, Ms. Burwell.