Chaffetz calls for $2,500 legislator housing stipend

Greg Nash

Just days before he resigns from Congress, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Monday that House and Senate lawmakers should receive a $2,500 per month housing allowance — something he explained would help ease housing costs for members who can’t afford two mortgages or rents.

“I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress,” Chaffetz told The Hill in an interview in his Capitol office, where he sleeps whenever he’s in Washington. “In today’s climate, nobody’s going to suggest or vote for a pay raise. But you shouldn’t have to be among the wealthiest of Americans to serve properly in Congress.”

{mosads}The comments from the fifth-term lawmaker suggest that financial considerations were a big part of his surprise announcement in April that he was stepping down from Congress and relinquishing his Oversight Committee gavel.

Chaffetz’s son will be attending law school at the University of Virginia, and his older daughter attends college in Utah. His younger daughter will be attending college in a couple of years.

He officially will resign from the House on Friday, then explore opportunities in the private sector.

“Washington, D.C., is one of the most expensive places in the world, and I flat-out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college and a second place here in Washington, D.C.,” Chaffetz said. “I think a $2,500 housing allowance would be appropriate and a real help to have at least a decent quality of life in Washington if you’re going to expect people to spend hundreds of nights a year here. …

“There are dozens upon dozens of members living in their offices, and I don’t know how healthy that is long term.”

While Chaffetz said $174,000 a year is a “handsome” congressional salary, he explained that subsidizing lawmakers’ housing costs in the pricey D.C. metro area could actually save taxpayer dollars. If he had a proper home in Washington rather than a cot in his office, Chaffetz said, he wouldn’t need to fly home every week on the taxpayers’ dime, and his wife, Julie, could visit more often.

A 2017 Kiplinger report ranked Washington as the sixth-most expensive city in the country to live.

A $2,500 monthly allowance would cost taxpayers about $30,000 a year per lawmaker, or roughly $16 million a year for all 535 members.

It “would allow the non-millionaires to participate and you would be able to have your spouse join you here,” said Chaffetz, 50, who’s spent 1,500 nights away from his wife and children during his eight-plus years in Congress. “If I wasn’t buying as many airline tickets, it would ultimately be less expensive.”

Chaffetz, one of the most media-savvy lawmakers and a constant presence on cable TV, plans to take a role at Fox News, according to media reports. Chaffetz wouldn’t discuss a potential position at Fox.

He also told The Hill he hopes to land seats on some corporate boards, do some consulting work for information technology firms and write a book.

“It’s not a tell-all, gossip-filled expose by any means,” Chaffetz said. “But there are things that hopefully the public will be interested in reading about, including what are some of the possible solutions” in Washington.

“Particularly in the IT sector, the IT companies of this country don’t understand Washington, D.C., and I feel Washington, D.C., doesn’t understand IT,” he continued. “There are some real big questions about drone technology, who’s going to control that, who’s the law enforcement for that; autonomous vehicles; privacy issues; immigration issues.”  

As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz aggressively investigated then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to the deadly Benghazi, Libya, terror attacks, her use of a private email server and her handling of classified information.

Had Clinton been elected president, Chaffetz would have been the Democrat’s chief antagonist — a post that would have further elevated his national profile.

But Republican Donald Trump was elected instead, putting Chaffetz in the politically tricky spot of having to lead congressional oversight of a friendly GOP administration. But Chaffetz said he probably would have reached the same decision about leaving Congress had Clinton won the White House.

“I vowed that I would get in, serve and get out, and at some point you have to say, ‘Let’s get off this crazy train and get a better balance in your life,’ ” Chaffetz said. “It’s hard to say, but I think I’d still probably come to the same conclusion.”

Given Chaffetz’s reputation as a shrewd and ambitious political operator, many on Capitol Hill saw his decision to abruptly quit Congress as part of a plot to run for higher office.

Less than two years ago, he stunned colleagues by running against his friend, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), for House Speaker after John Boehner (R-Ohio) resigned. McCarthy quit the Speaker’s race, with Republicans electing House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

But Chaffetz insisted he has no ulterior motives.

“This is not some clever move to do ‘A’ with the real intention of doing ‘B,’ ” he explained. “I’ll put my head down, do this other stuff for a couple years and then wake up and see what the possibilities are.”

Chaffetz made clear he wouldn’t run against longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, a fellow Utah Republican, who is up for reelection in 2018.

But asked about Utah’s gubernatorial race in 2020, Chaffetz, a former campaign manager and chief of staff to former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R), said he wouldn’t “close the door on anything.”

Chaffetz said he’s proud of the work he and his Democratic counterpart, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings (D), have done to uncover bad behavior and “cultural flaws” at the Secret Service, as well as that agency’s response to White House fence-jumpers and the inadequate training of agents.

But Chaffetz said frustration with gridlock on Capitol Hill also drove him to leave office.

His committee passed bipartisan postal reform legislation in March, but GOP leadership has put it on the back burner, he said. He also faulted House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) for failing to mark up Chaffetz’s bill smoothing the way for high-skilled immigrants to work in the U.S.

And Chaffetz said GOP leaders want nothing to do with his bill that gives states greater latitude to charge sales tax on online purchases.

“You can continue to get frustrated and whine about it or you can leave, so I’ve decided to leave,” Chaffetz said. “I’ve got three big prospects and no daylight to actually get them done, and that absolutely was a factor in making my decision.”

Tags Bob Goodlatte Boehner Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jason Chaffetz John Boehner Orrin Hatch Paul Ryan
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