A few months ago, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz famously opined that Americans needed to make “a choice” between spending money on the latest iPhone or their health-care bills. Well, just as he’s about to quit Congress, Chaffetz is back in the news, only this time he’s oozing sympathy for people’s financial woes. Which people? Not folks like you and me; Chaffetz’s sympathy is reserved for his soon-to-be-former colleagues.
In an interview The Hill published earlier this week, Chaffetz argued that members of Congress should receive a $2,500-a-month housing stipend so that no one would need to sleep on a cot in their office, like he did. “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…,” said Chaffetz, who took home a salary last year of $174,000. “You shouldn’t have to be among the wealthiest of Americans to serve properly in Congress.”
Let’s not play the violins.
Indeed, Washington, DC, is an expensive place to live; the British firm Nest recently ranked it the fourth-priciest rental market in the United States. But when it comes to who needs help paying housing bills, common sense says Chaffetz and his fellow members of Congress should hardly be first in line. The number of affordable units—that is, apartments costing $800 or less—fell by almost half between 2002 and 2013. The city’s homeless population has increased by almost 9 percent since 2012.
But these people aren’t Chaffetz’s concern. He voted for the AHCA, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act that would not only cause an estimated 23 million people to lose health insurance over the next decade, but also result in premium surges for many. Under the current healthcare law, the Congressional Budget Office determined that a 64-year-old earning $26,500 would pay $1,700 annually for coverage in 2026. But under the AHCA, that same person would see their yearly tab surge to $14,600, more than half their annual income. No doubt that hypothetical person would like to see their subsidy continue. But instead the plan would give a nice gift to the wealthiest among us. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the health-care legislation Chaffetz supported would have resulted in the wealthiest 400 families in the United States saving $33 billion on their tax bill between 2019 and 2028. That sum is greater than the amount saved by ending the Medicaid expansion in 20 states.