Counting Votes Or Counting Sheep?

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Your representative in Congress may be sleeping … in his or her office.

An estimated 40 to 50 representatives, or maybe more than 100, reportedly bed down in their offices each night. They’re men and women, but mostly men, Republicans and Democrats, but mostly Republicans, who have been called the In-Office Caucus.

Many who use the halls of Congress for a crash pad reportedly pad down to the House gym in the morning to shower. They may have leftover takeout turning crusty in their office fridge, Pop-Tarts in a file cabinet and sheets and pillows tucked into a supply closet, along with whatever pinstripe they might need to appear on Fox News.

Most congresspeople who make camp in their offices say it is to save money. Representatives are paid $174,000 a year; keeping a second residence in Washington, D.C. can be costly.

But office-dwellers also like to boast that though they vote in Washington, they have not gone Washington. As Paul Ryan of Janesville, Wis., who sleeps in his office, told CNN when he was elected speaker of the House in 2015, “I commute back and forth every week. I just work here. I don’t live here.”

Rep. Mike Quigley, whose Washington, D.C. office doubles as his home away from Chicago, lays his mattress onto the floor before going to sleep in 2010. [NPR]
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to members of the House Ethics Committee last year to complain: “Members who sleep overnight in their offices receive free lodging, free cable, free security, free cleaning services, and utilize other utilities free of charge in direct violation of the ethics rules which prohibit official resources from being used for personal purposes.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi adds, “Some people would say it’s almost nasty,” according to Politico.

Another Democrat, Rep. Jackie Speier of California, calls Congress-camping just “unseemly,” suggesting to BuzzFeed that members of Congress should be able to deduct a portion of their Washington living expenses.

I would like to float another proposal: Why not convert some airy, abandoned loft near the U.S. Capitol into a low-priced Congresshostel? A place with bunk beds, Wi-Fi, lockers, cheap beer and a game room.

When members of the Continental Congress stayed in a Philadelphia boarding house, they wrote a constitution that’s lasted 229 years. Maybe today’s U.S. Congress can stay in a hostel and pass a budget that will last a year.

Lobbyists can make donations to tuck the congresspeople into their bunk beds at night. The representatives can lull themselves to sleep, watching replays of themselves on C-SPAN.

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