By Dierdre Shesgren at Cincinatti.com
Rep. Thomas Massie wants to kill a little-known perk now being enjoyed by former House Speaker John Boehner.
Like other retired speakers, Boehner is allowed to set up a post-speaker office, hire staff and send out mail — all on the taxpayers’ dime. The West Chester Republican took advantage of that privilege almost immediately after he ended his 25-year congressional career in October, hiring one staffer and staking out space in the Longworth Office Building.
But Massie, a Northern Kentucky Republican who was a constant thorn in Boehner’s side during his tumultuous stint as speaker, is now pushing legislation that would force Boehner to shutter that office and strip away other benefits. Massie unveiled legislation Wednesday to defund the post-speaker perks, working with another longtime Boehner nemesis, Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina.
“It’s indefensible,” Massie said. “It’s a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.”
At issue is a decades-old law that provides federal money to former speakers – for up to five years after they leave the House – to set up an office, hire up to three staffers, purchase stationery and set up telephone service, along with other supplies. Congress passed the measure in 1970, when John McCormack, D-Massachusetts, was about to retire as speaker after 42 years in the House.
McCormack was the first speaker to retire to private life, according to a Congressional Research Service report on the post-speaker program. His congressional colleagues “felt it was appropriate to provide him the means to finish any speaker-related business,” the CRS report states. Congress later expanded the program and made it permanent.
Massie said the program was set up in different era, when “there wasn’t the revolving door with K Street that you have today.” K Street is the avenue in downtown Washington where many former lawmakers and staffers go to work as high-priced lobbyists after they leave Congress.
Massie noted that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, who recently pleaded guilty in a hush money case, kept a federally funded office even while he was working as a Washington lobbyist. The taxpayer tab for Hastert’s post-speaker operation was $1.9 million, according to Massie.
Massie said he would be “shocked” if Boehner doesn’t also end up working on K Street.
“I’m sure he’ll have book royalties and speaking fees and consulting income,” Massie said of Boehner. “He doesn’t need an office over here at the Capitol.”
A spokesman for Boehner, Dave Schnittger, declined comment. But Schnittger previously said the Ohio Republican had snagged an unused office in the Longworth Office Building and hired one aide to go through his papers and mementos.
“It’s basically a room full of boxes,” Schnittger told the Enquirer in November. “As a matter of standard practice, all former speakers of the House have an office for a period of time after leaving Congress for purposes of archiving, winding down the unique work they did as speaker, and facilitating the transition from one speaker to the new speaker.”
Massie said his bill was not an attempt to poke Boehner even after his Cincinnati-area colleague had been nudged into retirement.
“I would just as happily offer this measure if it pertained to Nancy Pelosi,” Massie quipped, referring to the House Democratic leader.
“It’s not just a messaging bill or a hypothetical bill,” Massie said. “I am expecting it to pass with a veto-proof majority.”
Massie said he and Jones will to try to attach their proposal to the year-end spending bill. And if that fails, they will push it next year as part of the spending bill that funds the legislative branch.
Massie said Boehner could “put this to rest by saying he’s not going to take the perk,” but he didn’t seem to expect that to happen.
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