Government-funded office, staff await Ryan after he leaves Congress

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan AP

Once he leaves office in January, House Speaker Paul Ryan is entitled to a government-funded office for up to five years and three staffers earning six figures salaries.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., wants to change that. He’s pushing legislation to eliminate the post-speaker’s office, a little-known Capitol Hill benefit.

His effort comes as Ryan, R-Wis., announced Wednesday that he won’t seek re-election to the House and will relinquish the speaker’s gavel in January 2019.

Jones insisted that his bill isn’t about Ryan, noting that he first introduced it a year ago. He said it’s about ending a pricey federal benefit for the House’s highest office holder who stands to make millions in the private sector after leaving Congress.

“Anybody who’s a former speaker, unless they get in trouble, like Dennis Hastert, they’re going to be making millions of dollars on the outside,” Jones said Thursday. “Why should the poor taxpayer, who is trying to make ends meet, why should any of their money go to pay for an office for a former speaker to hang out in with a staff? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Ryan’s office did not respond to questions Thursday about whether he intends to set up a post-speaker office.

Under the House policy, established in 1970, former speakers receive allowances for office space, furnishings, franked mail and staff assistance for up to five years beginning the moment the speaker leaves office.

The ex-speakers can hire three full-time staffers who, in 2015, were entitled to make a maximum of $158,486, $133,108 and $116,104 each, according to a January 2017 Congressional Research Service report.

The office is “to be used solely for the administration and conclusion of matters relating to service as a Representative and Speaker of the House,” the CRS report states.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a government watchdog group, called the perk a windfall for a departed House speaker who hardly needs it.

“It is a waste of money…they don’t need this kind of taxpayer subsidy to close up shop,” Holman said. “They don’t need to get a million or $2 million in tax-payer assistance for the next five years after they leave. They’re going to do much better than most Americans do.”

A former speaker must relinquish their post-speaker office if they take a federally-appointed or elective position. They don’t have to shutter the office if they take a private sector position.

“That includes becoming a lobbyist,” Holman said. “That is a serious problem.”

The office bills for recent former House speakers have included $211,000 to help former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who maintained an ex-speaker’s office on Capitol Hill for a year after he left office in 2015.

Hastert, R-Ill., kept a post-speaker office in his home state for five years, from 2008 to 2012. The cost to taxpayers: $1.5 million.

In 2013, Hastert was accused in a civil lawsuit of using post-speaker office money for private business expenses. He denied the charge and the case was dismissed last year.

Hastert was indicted on separate federal charges in 2015 and pleaded guilty to a financial crime. In the case against him, federal prosecutors noted that Hastert had been regularly withdrawing large sums of cash for a payoff. He later admitted he had sexually abused young boys decades earlier when he was a high school coach in Yorkville, Ill. The money mentioned in the case had been used to cover up the past abuses.

Anna Douglas of the Charlotte Observer contributed.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that this year will be his last one in Congress, and that he will retire in January. He said he counts his time as speaker as one of the two "greatest honors of my life."