House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, made his name leading some of the endless investigations into Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails. But now that he’s set to retire in a few days, headed for a Fox News gig and some corporate board seats, Chaffetz has a new moral imperative: Get federal legislators’ housing subsidized. Yes, rank-and-file members of congress make $174,000 a year, but Chaffetz told The Hill this week that lawmakers could really use a $2,500-a-month stipend to help pay for their second homes in Washington, D.C.:
“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.”
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Chaffetz’s point is actually not unreasonable here. D.C. is one of the most expensive areas of the country, and the Utah congressman describes a situation where “dozens and dozens” of lawmakers, paying a mortgage on one home and, often, a college tuition or two, are “living in their offices.” Because of that, they fly home more often—billing taxpayers for the ticket—and their families can’t visit them in D.C. as frequently.
More important, though, is Chaffetz’s larger point: You shouldn’t have to be rich to serve in public office. That was a concern for the Founding Fathers, who ultimately decided to pay federal lawmakers because they did not want service to be restricted to those already wealthy enough to forgo a salary for years at a time. You can debate how many members of Congress actually need financial help, but the principle that we should try not to shut people out of federal office with a high financial bar is a solid one.
That said, however, there’s more than a little sniff of “socialism for me, but not for thee” at work here. After all, Chaffetz doubts the federal government’s role in administering to national parks, much less housing. He’s a member of a caucus that is particularly concerned with cutting housing programs that get the homeless of the street and a party whose president released a budget that cuts funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the tune of $6 billion. Seventy-five percent of the department’s budget goes toward helping working class and poor families pay their rent, so substantial cuts mean substantially more Americans who can’t afford their first home—not, as with members of Congress, their second.
Plus, Chaffetz once said people who want healthcare shouldn’t be all greedy and want an iPhone, too. As a member of Congress, he gets his healthcare through the federal government. Also, there’s the whole healthcare thing in general.
In the end, Chaffetz’s point stands on decent ground—it’s just amazing that he’s the one to make it, and that the guardians of Fiscal Responsibility and those most opposed to Government Handouts likely won’t make a peep. It’s a tired game, but imagine if a Democratic congressman made this suggestion. The howls from Fox News would be audible on Neptune.