Yesterday, the New York Post published a story about a longstanding habit of certain members of our legislature: Sleeping in the office. Paul Ryan does it for the convenience. Some refuse to rent in Washington because they want to rise above the corruption of the “swamp.” (Or, more likely, because DC is a truly awful place to be.)
But now, with a bill set to be introduced this month that would ban the practice altogether, our public servants say they simply can’t afford a place to live on a salary of between $173,000 and $193,000 a year. From the Post:
Crying poverty amid decade-long stagnant salaries and Washington’s steep cost of living, an increasing number of House lawmakers have turned into professional squatters at night, hitting the sack in their Capitol Hill offices — on everything from cots in closets to futons stashed behind constituent couches — to save a few bucks during the work week.
“Washington is too expensive,” said Rep. Dan Donovan (R-SI), who credits the cot that he sleeps on in a tiny alcove in his office as the reason he is able to serve in Congress while still paying his New York City housing costs.
“If we go to the point where you have to rent or have to buy [in DC], then only millionaires would be members of Congress,’’ he said. “I don’t think that was the intent of our Founding Fathers.”
There’s a lot of moaning about the cost of renting an apartment in Washington ($2,000 a month! For a studio!) of which I’ll spare you, since, if you reside in a major city you probably know these rates and have found a place to live regardless.
But the morning routines on Capitol Hill actually do sound quite nice. While the offices, as the Post notes, don’t have showers or kitchens, they do have a reception area, a workspace for staff, and a separate office, making them far more spacious than many places I’ve lived:
What makes overnights in the office possible is Congress’ members-only gym in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building. With an annual fee of roughly $300, members have access to showers, laundry and lockers.
“I don’t really view it as free housing,” [Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins] says. And “to be honest, it’s really convenient to the lifestyle. There’s a gym here. There’s a shower there. There’s a towel service there.
“There’s a laundry service for gym clothing.”
Sounds a bit like a luxury “micro-apartment” to me. Lawmakers disagree on what to do about the problem: Higgins thinks the forthcoming bill is just a ploy to get per diems and a cost-of-living pay increase for members of Congress. Representative Bennie Thompson, one of the sponsors of the bill, says he just thinks sleeping in the office is “nasty” and possibly unethical. (“You get free cable. Free electricity. Free janitorial. Free security. No rent. It’s a heck of a deal,” he told the paper.)
There is one good idea to emerge from this months-long drama, though:
Minnesota’s Walz suggested turning former dormitories once used for the teenaged congressional pages into housing for members of Congress.
Get Congress a dorm and some hot plates! And we won’t have to hear about this ever again.