Chaffetz: 'Dozens and Dozens' of Lawmakers Sleep in DC Offices, Should Receive $2,500 Housing Stipend

Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) / Getty Images
June 27, 2017

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) thinks members of Congress should receive a $2,500 per month housing allowance, arguing that a stipend would help lawmakers who cannot afford two residences.

Chaffetz made the comment to the Hill in an interview days before he is set to resign from Congress. The Utah Republican previously announced that his final day in office will be June 30.

Chaffetz said that a stipend would support lawmakers who are not independently wealthy to serve in Congress. He noted that he and "dozens upon dozens of members" currently sleep in their Capitol Hill offices when they are 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 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 cited the high cost of living in D.C. and how that makes it difficult to cover costs back home.

"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.," Chaffetz said. "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 argued that if he had a home in D.C., he would not need to fly home every weekend on the taxpayers' dime and his wife could visit the nation's capital more often. He has spent 1,500 nights away from his wife and children during his eight-plus years in Congress.

Members of Congress currently earn $174,000 a year, which Chaffetz called a "handsome" salary.

How much time elected officials should spend in D.C. versus in the states and districts they represent has been an ongoing issue. Lawmakers have numerous reasons to spend time back home, but many argue that more time should be spent on Capitol Hill.

Looking at the numbers, a $2,500 monthly allowance would cost taxpayers about $30,000 a year per lawmaker, or about $16 million a year for all 535 members. Chaffetz noted that the stipend may end up saving taxpayers money because lawmakers would not need to spend as much on airfare.

While financial considerations are a concern for Chaffetz, they are not the sole factor contributing to his resignation.

According to the Hill, "many" on Capitol Hill saw his decision to resign as an indication he plans to run for higher office.

When asked about Utah's gubernatorial race in 2020, Chaffetz said he would not "close the door on anything."

Chaffetz expressed less political plans for his future, however. Those plans include serving on corporate boards, consulting on information technology, and writing a book.

"It's not a tell-all, gossip-filled expose by any means," Chaffetz said. "But there are things that hopefully the public will be interested in reading about, including what are some of the possible solutions" in Washington.

The Utah Republican also might take on a role at Fox News, according to press reports, although he would not discuss the potential media job with the Hill.

Beyond other plans pulling him away from the legislature, Chaffetz discussed additional frustrations with the gridlock on Capitol Hill that "drove" him to leave office.

"You can continue to get frustrated and whine about it or you can leave, so I've decided to leave," he said.

Chaffetz said last month that "at some point, you've got to get off this crazy train" when asked why he was resigning. He added that the strain of being away from his family so much has taken a toll.