WASHINGTON -- Like the smoke stains in his old office, former Speaker John Boehner isn't really going anywhere -- at least not as far as the taxpayer is concerned.
Under congressional rules, the former speaker is allowed to keep a Capitol Hill office at taxpayer expense for five years, complete with franking privileges, a budget for office furnishings and three staffers making six-figure salaries.
"I guess they're going to pay for his toilet tissue too," said Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), who is introducing a bill with Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to deauthorize the so-called post-speaker office.
Jones and Massie held a sparsely attended press conference Wednesday morning -- The Huffington Post was the only outlet present -- to call for an end to the post-speakership perk. And while the apparently ongoing conservative crusade against Boehner wasn't enough to motivate the rest of the congressional press corps to brave a 9 a.m. outdoor news conference in December, Jones and Massie had fun at an event where members of Congress outnumbered the press. "This is already better attended than most of my Capitol Hill fundraisers," Massie quipped.
Jones and Massie were two of the Republicans leading the charge to overthrow Boehner, and both have been relegated to the fringe of the House GOP. But both insist this effort to wean Boehner's staff from the government tit is more about the budget than the man.
"This is not about John Boehner," Jones said. "This is about the taxpayers' money."
Jones said he would have moved to get rid of the post-speaker office 20 years ago if he had known about it then. "I did not know this until the lady, Ms. Ackley, I believe, at Roll Call, did an article on this about four weeks ago," Jones said. "And I said, 'Jesus Christ!'"
Indeed, the post-speaker office has been around since 1970, when Congress provided an allowance to former Speaker John McCormack after a 42-year career in the House. It's been a little-known perk ever since, even though, Jones and Massie argue, Washington has changed since McCormack.
"The difference in John McCormack and John Boehner: John McCormack was not bought and paid for by special interest," Jones said. "Speakers today leave Congress as millionaires. They get jobs as consultants and lobbyists and write books. Why in the world do they need an office at the expense of the taxpayer?"
According to Jones and Massie, former Speaker Dennis Hastert's post-speaker office cost taxpayers around $1.9 million, but it could have cost up to $4 million if Hastert had availed himself of all the perks he was legally entitled to. "They call that 'budget dust' up here," Massie joked.
Boehner is allowed three staffers: one administrative assistant making up to $158,486 a year and two secretaries who can make up to $133,108 and $116,104, respectively. (The amounts are indexed to inflation, so the salaries can rise over those five years.)
While Jones and Massie both contended this wasn't about Boehner, it was difficult Wednesday not to detect at least some frustration that it was a particular Ohio Republican who would be benefiting from the office.
Both lawmakers took shots at Boehner, saying that he was going to Florida to play golf, not serve the taxpayers, and Massie made the point that Boehner in particular didn't need an office to wind down his affairs for five years.
"I guess there was a time in Congress where plans maybe lasted five years, and the incumbent needed to stick around to see the plan through," Massie said. "But none of John Boehner's plans have lasted more than six months. I mean, we have managed from crisis, to crisis, to crisis."
The conservative lawmakers are formally introducing the two-page bill to repeal the authorization for the post-speaker office on Wednesday, and they plan to write a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) urging him to include their bill in the omnibus. If not, Jones and Massie mentioned the upcoming appropriations season where there is an open amendment process.
Jones and Massie said they thought their bill, if it got a vote, would get overwhelming support. During an interview after the press conference with Roll Call, Massie even said he thought every member would vote to eliminate the office.
"I think our Founding Fathers would be appalled that it's come to this," Massie said. "That not only are we providing pensions long after members of Congress are gone, but that we're also providing staff and offices and postage."
"This is just the most ridiculous thing," added Jones. "That's why the American people are just sick and tired and fed up with Washington."
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