When John Boehner rose from Minority Leader to Speaker in January, he not only expanded his staff and his paycheck, he more than doubled the expense-account check he cashes each month.
As Minority Leader, the Ohio Republican had received a direct payment of $833 each month from taxpayers to cover “official expenses for leaders,” the same monthly total then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer received.
But Boehner now receives a monthly $2,083.33 direct payment for expenses, according to the most recent expenditure reports from the Clerk of the House. Because the total of the expense payment is the same each month, it is apparently not reimbursement for individual itemized expenses.
Boehner’s office offered no details about how his monthly check is spent. Spokesman Michael Steel would only say, “This money is used in appropriate ways for expenses related to his official duties.”
Beginning in January, Hoyer, now the Minority Whip, saw his monthly expense check drop to $527, and the Maryland Democrat in March stopped accepting it entirely.
A spokeswoman in Hoyer’s office confirmed he has not taken the expense payment since February because he decided “the appropriate thing to do was to stop receiving it.”
While Congress has set aside $235,000 a year to cover the expenses of House and Senate leaders, Boehner now appears to be the only Member of the House accepting this money in direct payments each month.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) generally used the expense account to pay for meals or ceremonial events; the expense payments were not made out to her directly. Since she became Minority Leader in January, there is no record of any leadership expense-account payments from her office.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who served as Minority Whip in the 111th Congress, doesn’t use the account at all. Nor does Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who served as Majority Whip in the last Congress, their offices said in March.
Roll Call reported earlier this year that even as Congress has looked for budget-cutting initiatives, there appeared to be no effort to trim the annual budget for leadership expense accounts.
The appropriations bill for 2010, as in prior years, set aside $180,000 for these expenses in the Senate. That figure included $40,000 each for the Majority Leader and Minority Leader and $40,000 for the President Pro Tem, with lesser amounts for the Whips, Policy Committee chairmen and Vice President Joseph Biden. These amounts are in addition to the regular office budget.
In the House, the expense accounts provide $25,000 to the Speaker, $10,000 each for the Minority and Majority Leaders and $5,000 each for the Whips.
The boost in Boehner’s expense account is in addition to the $30,000 increase in the base pay that he began to collect in January after becoming Speaker. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Minority Leader’s salary was $193,400 last year. This year’s Speaker salary is $223,500.
That means between his pay and his expenses, Boehner saw his annual checks jump from $203,400 to $248,500 in January, an increase of about 22 percent.
Senate disclosures offer less detail than House financial reports, so there is no way to tell how Senate leaders receive their expense payments. But in recent years, both Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appear to have used the leadership expense accounts to cover “supplies and materials” and other office expenses.