Taxpayers are funding luxury housing accommodations for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and over 200 other members of Congress, many of whom boast net worths over $1 million.
As one of their last actions with their majority, Democrats quietly tucked a provision into internal House rules that grants lawmakers access to an optional $34,000 annual subsidy to pay for their Washington, D.C., housing and meal expenses. Taxpayers have doled out over $8,700 to pay for the democratic socialist's lodging and meals throughout the first half of 2023, records show.
In total, 113 Democrats and 104 Republicans have taken advantage of the program, raking in a combined $1.4 million from taxpayers during the first half of 2023, House disbursement records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon show. Recipients of these funds include at least 17 millionaire Democrats, including Rep. Katie Porter, who reported a net worth of up to $1.8 million in her latest financial disclosure, and House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D., Mass.), who boasts a net worth of up to $13.5 million.
House Democrats passed the housing subsidy in response to criticism from younger members including Ocasio-Cortez, who have long complained that their $174,000 salary is insufficient to maintain a home in their districts and pay for skyrocketing rent in the nation’s capital. Since taking office in 2019, Ocasio-Cortez has rented an apartment in a luxury Washington, D.C., building that boasts amenities including a rooftop pool and indoor golf simulator.
Ocasio-Cortez’s fellow members of the "Squad," six of whom voted against a House resolution last week condemning Hamas’s terrorist rampage in Israel, can also thank taxpayers for financing their Washington, D.C., living expenses. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) has billed taxpayers over $14,000 for lodging and meals during the first half of 2023. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) has received $6,800 from taxpayers to pay for her lodging and meals.
And "Squad" member Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.), who was ordered last week to pay a $1,000 fine for intentionally pulling a fire alarm in a House office building in September, has received $6,200 to pay for his rent and meals. Bowman reported in his latest financial disclosure that his wife owns a pension valued at over $50 million, though his office told the Free Beacon in September that the asset is worth just $50,000. The filing has yet to be amended.
As taxpayers finance the living expenses for wealthy lawmakers, a record number of Americans are struggling to pay their own rent. A Harvard study in July found that a record 21.6 million households are spending more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income on rent. And the cost of groceries has increased by more than 20 percent since President Joe Biden took office. Median household income in 2022 was $74,580, or about 43 percent of what members of Congress make.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) received the largest share of funds out of any lawmaker. The Florida Republican, who led the effort to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in part due to his budgetary policies, has billed taxpayers nearly $17,000 from January through May to pay for his D.C. living expenses. Gaetz received an additional $6,200 to pay for his meals during the same timeframe, an average of over $1,250 per month.
Gaetz’s wife, Ginger Gaetz, frequently brags on social media that the Florida Republican is a great chef and posts pictures of his culinary creations from their Washington, D.C., residence. Gaetz told the Free Beacon his taxpayer-funded meals are made with discount buy-one-get-one-free products.
Perks of having a chef husband 🦚 pic.twitter.com/Il9NU0wFDN
— Ginger Gaetz (@LuckeyGinger) October 17, 2023
"I’ve complied with the law, and my cooking is often with discount BOGO products. I try to do the best in the kitchen from the BOGO life," Gaetz said. "During my time in Congress, I’ve returned over $860,000 to taxpayers from the Members' Representational Allowance (MRA)."
By covertly authorizing the housing subsidy through an internal rule change, Democrats effectively gave representatives a pay raise without triggering political backlash, the New York Times reported. Former Rep. Mo Brooks (R., Ala.) railed against the secretive nature of the housing subsidy in January.
"You can have a good public policy debate on whether congressmen should be paid more in order to attract a better bunch, and you could have a reasonable debate on inflation adjustments, but it really ought to be done in public," Brooks said. "That’s my biggest beef, that it was a clandestine secret."
Congressional Progressive Staff Association spokeswoman Zoe Bluffstone also slammed the program, telling the Times that House offices should focus on increasing pay for staffers, who often "live paycheck to paycheck, take on debt, or work second jobs in order to survive due to persistently low wages on the Hill."
The subsidy is funded through members’ office budgets, and lawmakers can expense up to $258 per day in lodging costs and $79 per day in meals for days when the House is in session or when attending official committee meetings. The rate is set by the General Services Administration. Members of the House can be reimbursed for hotels or rentals, but cannot use the subsidy to make mortgage payments.
Lawmakers do not have to submit receipts for reimbursement, and only have to certify that they incurred the "eligible expenses," according to the Members’ Congressional Handbook.
Charles Hilu contributed to this report.