Timing is everything in life.
For U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, he picked an especially poor time to pitch an idea last week.
The politician from Alpine, Utah, said it is difficult for members of Congress who are not wealthy to maintain a residence back in their home state and also have a second home or apartment in Washington, D.C.
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He is a former editorial page editor and assistant managing editor of The Des Moines Register.
Visit the Iowa Freedom of Information Council website at: http://ifoic.org/
Chaffetz said taxpayers should provide senators and representatives with a housing stipend of $2,500 per month — that’s $30,000 each year — to offset the extra housing expense.
I don’t want to come across as cold-hearted, but it’s hard to muster much sympathy for the men and women who serve in Congress.
Their annual salaries are $174,000. Their wealth far surpasses that of the typical Iowan. And when they leave office, they often move into even more lucrative jobs as lobbyists, business executives or corporate board members.
The salary members of Congress receive is significantly higher than the median household income in Iowa. That is $54,700 per year, the U.S. Census Bureau says.
Chaffetz has served in the U.S. House since 2009. He was re-elected last November. But he announced this spring that he was leaving office, effective June 30.
Chaffetz is married. He and his wife have three children. Two are in college; the youngest is in high school.
The family has remained back in Utah since he took office eight years ago. For most of his time in Congress, he has slept in his office on a cot.
“I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress,” he said last week. “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.”
Chaffetz has painted himself into a corner on this subject with his comments and his votes.
He made his proposal the same week that phone lines to U.S. Senate offices were lit up with constituents’ calling to criticize the Senate bill to overhaul Obamacare.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that bill could put health insurance out of reach financially for 22 million people. The House version of the Obamacare replacement had an even worse toll on Americans, but Chaffetz voted for that package of changes in May.
This is the same Jason Chaffetz who felt compelled this year to offer family budgeting advice for poor people.
During an interview about the House Republicans’ plans for replacing Obamacare, he said, “Americans have choices. … So maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest that in health care.”
In follow-up interviews, he didn’t back down: “People need to make a conscious choice, and I believe in self-reliance.”
Chaffetz doesn’t come out and say it directly, but his message was clear: If your money is limited, you should spend it more wisely than buying an expensive phone.
Of course, the same could be said for the Chaffetz family. Perhaps then Dad would not have had to sleep in his office for eight years.
The Chaffetz son attends the University of Virginia law school. The tuition there is $59,300 per year for out-of-state students. Back in Utah, at Brigham Young University law school, the tuition is only $12,680 per year for Mormons, which the Chaffetzes are.
The law school tuition savings would more than cover the $30,000 per year housing stipend Chaffetz wants you and me to pay.
But Chaffetz is tone deaf on iPhones and the housing stipends he advocates. He has opposed federal housing programs for low income Americans. He has opposed attempts to increase the federal minimum wage.
The Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House health care bill he supported had some especially startling numbers when you think about Chaffetz’s suggestion for housing stipends.
The CBO report said a 64-year-old man with an annual income of $26,500 — that’s less than the housing stipend Chaffetz proposed — now pays $1,700 per year for a mid-level health insurance plan under Obamacare. But under the House Republican bill, the cost for that insurance would jump to between $13,600 and $16,100 per year, the CBO projected.
It’s extraordinarily difficult to explain to someone here in Iowa who lives on minimum-wage income of about $15,000 per year why a member of Congress making $174,000 should receive a housing allowance from the government that is twice as big as the minimum-wage person’s total annual income.
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Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.