WASHINGTON -- The new Democratic leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives are taking a new look at the practice of lawmakers who live in their Capitol Hill offices.
Top Democrats are considering making the live-in lawmakers pay for bunking in prime government real estate -- or ending the practice altogether.
"How would you feel about attending a meeting in someone's bedroom?" asked Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., a veteran member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has spoken against the practice for years.
Office-dwellers counter that the practice is frugal and efficient.
"My constituents want me to do the job they elected me to do," said Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky. "They appreciate frugality too, and appreciate the fact I'm focused on doing my job and not moving into Washington."
The Congressional Black Caucus has long been appalled by the arrangements.
"A lot of our Republican colleagues are very hard on people in public housing ... when they in fact are living in public housing, without paying any taxes on it," said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., a former caucus chairman.
Thompson called the practice "nasty," saying it's freeloading on the government's dime. He's been trying to end the practice for years.
"Free janitorial, free cable, free security, free utilities. Ain't a bad deal, is it?" said Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "The reality is, you're gaming the system."
Not true, said office-dweller Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.
"They're going to clean your office anyway, and we're using the gym we pay for," he said. "If I thought there was an expense to the government by doing it, that would be different."
The initial fate of the sleep-ins in the House rests with its administration committee.
Chairman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said the panel will tackle the issue later this year. She has already asked the Architect of the Capitol, a nonpartisan informational source for members, to provide an estimate of the fair market value of living in a congressional office.
"There's a lot of sentiment that that is not something that should be permitted," Lofgren said.
But she's not sure there is an obvious solution, asking, "How do you enforce it?"
There's no official count of how many members live in their offices, but reports put the bipartisan number somewhere between 50 and 100.
Some sleep on mattresses in their multiroom office suites that they then stow in closets during the day. Others sleep on futons, and still others sleep on Murphy beds, which fold into the wall.
There are members-only gyms where lawmakers can shower, and there are laundry facilities on Capitol grounds.
No senators have confirmed that they live where they work. House members from all over the country sleep in their offices, including Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and Reps. Ted Budd, R-N.C., and Steve Watkins, R-Kan. Before stepping down earlier this month, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., slept in his office while in Washington.
Some office-dwelling lawmakers argue that if they weren't allowed to bunk in their workspace, congressional seats would only be occupied by millionaires who could afford to maintain two residences.
In August, Washington, D.C., had the nation's 26th highest average monthly rent at $2,145, according to Rent Cafe, a national apartment listing service.
Rank-and-file members of Congress make $174,000 annually. The House speaker earns $223,500, while the majority and minority leaders in both chambers receive $193,400.
"It's a preference of mine to save money -- I'm a newlywed, and my wife and I would like to buy a house in the district," said Watkins, who currently rents a property in his Kansas district. "We don't have enough money to do so, and this is a way for us to save up."
But Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., a black caucus member, said some lawmakers use sleeping in their office to boast to voters back home that they haven't been pulled into the Washington swamp because they haven't purchased or rented a home there.
"People who live in their office and get all this praise about sacrifice are, in fact, living off the government, whereas I have to pay," said Cleaver, a United Methodist minister who pays $2,000 a month for a rent-controlled unit in the United Methodist building near the Capitol. "My rental payment in Washington is greater than my mortgage in Kansas City."
Information for this article was contributed by Lesley Clark of the Tribune News Service.
A Section on 01/22/2019
Print Headline: Some House lawmakers urge end to sleeping in office