Politics

A Republican Congressman Just Said Lawmakers Like Him Need Housing Assistance

Jason Chaffetz, a Republican Congressman from Utah, is on his way out soon, having announced that he's resigning to pursue opportunities in the private sector.

Jason Chaffetz

Maybe that's why he's feeling safe enough to drop an opinion that sounds like an attack ad in the making. 

Days before his scheduled June 30 resignation, Chaffetz called on Congress to provide a $2,500 per month housing stipend to all members of Congress to offset the costs of living in Washington, D.C. In an interview with The Hill, he said, "I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress. 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."

 

 

The idea has some merit. 

There's actually a lot of to like about the proposal. While taxpayers comp members' travel between D.C. and their respective home states, no stipend exists for housing. Some members of Congress sleep on cots in their offices while in Washington, partly because housing costs in D.C. are skyrocketing. It's now the fourth most expensive rental market in the nation, behind San Fransisco, New York, and Boston. And, of course, Chaffetz is right that there shouldn't be a wealth barrier to serving in Congress. 

But Chaffetz's suggestion rings a little false. 

While many people support the idea, there's an irony to Chaffetz making such a suggestion. If you've heard his name before, it's probably because he's the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, so he's been in the news a lot regarding the Trump-Russia scandal. 

 

 

You might also know him from his much-ridiculed comment that Americans struggling to pay for health care might have to forgo an iPhone. It's a ludicrous statement, given that health insurance on the open market would cost $4,617 per year for a healthy individual with no deductibles compared to an $800 iPhone, per the Washington Post. It also suggests, obliquely, that poverty is a choice. The irony of Chaffetz asking for housing assistance, after towing the typical Republican line about personal responsibility, is ironic. 

Chaffetz also makes $174,000 per year. 

That's the base salary for a U.S. Representative. It's a lot of money compared to the average U.S. worker, who makes $44,148 per year. According to a 2015 report, a household needs to make at least $108,092 to live comfortably in the nation's capital—and that's if you're not maintaining a second home back in your district. In his interview with the Hill, Chaffetz said, "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." 

So Chaffetz might be right. College is expensive. D.C. is expensive. And maintaining a home for your family in your home state is expensive, too. 

But we have a word for what Chaffetz is suggesting: housing assistance. 

The content of Chaffetz's argument isn't the problem. It's the brazen hypocrisy. His "stipend" is basically welfare. If we're to accept the premise that he cannot afford to maintain a comfortable lifestyle at $174,000 a year—and maybe that's valid—perhaps Chaffetz and other House Republicans should rethink their approach to affordable housing for those of us that aren't earning six-figure salaries. Also, the $2,500 that he is requesting is a little high. A one-bedroom on Capitol Hill averages $1,795, according to DCist. The difference between $2,500 and $1,795 is about $700—roughly one iPhone. 

 

 

But the Trump budget calls for massive cuts to affordable housing. 

House Republicans on the House Subcommittee for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development voted in May to gut the National Housing Trust Fund, which was created by Congress in 2008 to help address the rarity of affordable rental homes for low-income families.

Chaffetz might be right about the need for housing assistance, but he should probably consider that many others who are not in Congress could use some assistance too.