Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who is resigning from public service for a job in the private sector, on Monday said members of Congress should receive a monthly stipend to cover the cost of living 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 said in an interview with The Hill. “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.”
Chaffetz said his base congressional salary of $174,000 a year is “handsome” but that he “flat-out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college and a second place here in Washington, D.C.”
The Deseret News in 2008 estimated that Chaffetz, newly elected to Congress, had a net worth of up to $5.6 million. OpenSecrets.org, a campaign-finance watchdog, estimated Chaffetz’s net worth in 2012 at $788,507.
Chaffetz announced in April that he will not seek another term in Congress in part because he’s sick of sleeping in his office.
“I just turned 50. I’m sleeping on a cot in my office,” he said. “I really, really like the work in Congress, I really do, but I love my family more. People may try to make it more than that, but it’s really that simple.”
In May, Chaffetz announced that he will resign from Congress on June 30, ahead of the end of his term.
The Hill estimated that a monthly housing stipend of $2,500 would add up to about $30,000 a year per member of Congress, or approximately $16 million a year for the entire Congress.
“There are dozens upon dozens of members living in their offices, and I don’t know how healthy that is long term,” Chaffetz told the Hill.
The calculus behind lawmakers’ decision to sleep in their offices is not necessarily so straightforward, however. Some members of Congress cite squatting in their workplaces as proof of their devotion to their home constituencies.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in 2015 told the New York Times that he sleeps in his office because he does not consider Washington, D.C. his home.
“I live in Janesville,” Ryan said, referring to his domicile in Wisconsin. “I commute back and forth every week. I just work here. I don’t live here.”
“I don’t want to get too comfortable in this town,” Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) told the New York Times.
While there is no official tally of how many lawmakers sleep in their offices (or how many of them do so for the optics), most of the members of Congress who tout their lifestyles — as the New York Times, NPR, Roll Call and CBS News have noted — appear to be Republicans.