AN increasing number of US Congress members have turned into professional squatters at night, sleeping in their Capitol Hill offices to save some money during the work week.
And they are blaming decade-long stagnant salaries and Washington’s steep cost of living for their ordeal.
“Washington is too expensive,” said Rep. Dan Donovan (Republican-Staten Island), 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.”
But some other Congress members are disgusted by what they call an unsanitary, undignified practice and want it banned.
Proposed legislation set to be introduced in the House as soon as this month would prohibit politicians from turning their offices into makeshift sleeping quarters, arguing that the move is violating IRS and congressional ethics rules.
“Look, it’s unhealthy. It’s nasty. I wouldn’t want to be entertained in somebody’s bedroom,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (Democrat Mississippi), who is among those spearheading the bill.
“Sleeping in your office is not proper” ethically, either, Thompson said. “You get free cable. Free electricity. Free janitorial. Free security. No rent. It’s a heck of a deal. It probably comes out to $25,000 to $30,000” a year that isn’t claimed at tax time.
For the slumber-party pols who catch their nightly zzz’s on office cots after daylong lawmaking discussions and fund-raising dinners, the issue is simple: money.
Many of them previously got extra compensation, or a per diem, when they served in their home-state legislatures to cover their living expenses while at the state capitol. New York state lawmakers in Albany, for example, get $175 for each day they are in town. In other large cities such as Sacramento, Calif., the daily stipend rises to $183, and in Austin, Texas, it is $190.
But as members of the House, U.S. reps receive a salary of $174,000 a year a figure that hasn’t increased in nearly a decade and no housing allowance, while working in a city where a sparse one-bedroom pad can start at $2,000 a month. Meanwhile, they also have to pay to maintain a residence in their home state.
Members of the Senate seem to fare better, if only because they rake in nearly $20,000 more a year, or $193,400. There are few if any known examples of senators bunking down in their offices overnight.