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While Americans Stand at Food Banks, Congress Sneaks in a $34,000 Pay Raise



As House Democrats were set to hand power over to the Republicans following their midterm loss, they slipped in a provision into the House's internal rules under the guise of aiding their less affluent members; a $34,000 allowance to ostensibly help with living expenses in Washington D.C.

A deep dive into the records by the Washington Free Beacon reveals that over 200 lawmakers, including the vociferous Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), have dipped into this taxpayer-funded pot, a sumptuous feast on the nation's dime.

Ocasio-Cortez, who has previously lamented the costliness of D.C. living on a Congressperson's salary, now enjoys taxpayer support for accommodations in a luxury building replete with amenities that seem more Silicon Valley than Capitol Hill.

Bipartisan handout

So far, 113 Democrats and 104 Republicans, including millionaire members like Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) and House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA), have partaken in the program, drawing $1.4 million from taxpayers during the first half of 2023 alone.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a critic of past budgetary excesses (whose wife says she's got a 'chef husband'), claimed the largest share of the fund.

When pressed about the apparent contradiction, Gaetz justified his actions to the Washington Free Beacon, emphasizing his adherence to the law and his thrifty shopping habits: "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. He also highlighted his record of fiscal responsibility: "During my time in Congress, I’ve returned over $860,000 to taxpayers from the Members' Representational Allowance (MRA)."

In January the NY Times shed light on the secretive subsidy, reporting that the Democrats' move to authorize it through an internal rule change effectively provided representatives with a pay raise sans political fallout. Former Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AK) criticized the lack of transparency, stating, "You can have a good public policy debate on whether congressmen should be paid more... but it really ought to be done in public," lamenting the secretive process.

Amidst these revelations, Zoe Bluffstone, spokeswoman for the Congressional Progressive Staff Association, directed attention to the plight of congressional staffers, telling the Times that the focus should be on "increasing pay for staffers," many of whom struggle financially.

The subsidy itself is derived from members' office budgets and allows for lodging expenses up to $258 per day and meal expenses up to $79 per day. The rules stipulate that members can be reimbursed for hotels or rentals linked to their official duties, though not for mortgage payments, and they do not need to submit receipts—only a certification of incurring the eligible expenses.

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