This is the first week that Jason Chaffetz will be former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
But don’t worry about unemployment. As our colleague John Sexton wrote, the 50-year-old California native has already started work as a Fox News contributor. That will gain the former P.R. man national recognition and a handsome salary for whatever his future political plans may hold. Think Newt Gingrich and John Kasich.
Chaffetz, the father of three, made an interesting proposal before leaving Capitol Hill. He suggested members of Congress should get a $2,500 housing allowance because they sort of live in two places — their home district and Washington. The idea is, of course, DOA or, more accurately, DEBA — Dead Even Before Arrival.
Ordinary members of Congress make a salary of $174,000 while in office and a gazillion more for their connections and expertise when they leave. So, the violins are not coming out for any of them, including the media-savvy Chaffetz. And you’ll notice Chaffetz waited until his last week in office to offer that idea.
“Washington, D.C., is one of the most expensive places in the world,” Chaffetz said last week, “and I flat-out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college and a second place here in Washington, D.C.”
Chaffetz said, like many members of Congress, he sleeps in his House office and worries that serving on Capitol Hill will become something only rich people can afford, as if it hasn’t already. And anyway the fact is, a $2,500 stipend might barely cover one month’s rent for some modest places close by the Hill.
Chaffetz financial predicament, however, is not a new one. In the 1970s I interviewed then Rep. Paul Findley, a 10-term Illinois Republican confronting the same economic realities then as Chaffetz faced now. Findley’s solution to maintain living accommodations in both places was to permanently rent a room at the Springfield Airport Holiday Inn.
Findley’s congressional district covered much of the same central Illinois area that was Abraham Lincoln’s House district during his lone term there, 1847-49.
In those days no one went to live in Washington, except the president. They visited there to represent their home district, usually staying in boarding houses or hotels. Then, they returned to their real home.
Today, things seem to be the exact opposite. Elected members are living in D.C., then traveling to their home district to represent Washington there.