No one thinks it’s cheap to live in the nation’s capital. The cost of living is frequently discussed among Hill staffers, consultants and political operatives as one of the downsides of working in Washington, D.C.
But then, most of those people don’t make anything close to 174K a year.
It’s therefore mystifying why some Congressmen who make that (on the House side. Senate side does even better) are choosing to live in their offices — and apparently stinking up the joint — because the cost of an apartment is too expensive.
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.”
Frugality is a good, conservative principle. Taking advantage of your employer (in this case, the American people) and whining is not. Some of the colleagues of the live-in legislators are introducing measures to stop the squatters. Because in addition to the worries about the potential for unsanitary working conditions, they say their colleagues also have their amenities paid for and are essentially living rent free.
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 (D-Miss.), 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.
While Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who will retire next year, has admitted to the practice because he said he has never considered himself a resident of DC (“I just work here,” he told the New York Times), there are some estimates that the number of members who actually sleep at the office is around 100, with maybe 50 copping to it. And they’re mostly Republicans.
And while it’s true that House-side members don’t make nearly as much as their lobbyist counterparts in the DMV, they make a lot more than most consultants and staffers that work for them.
And those people somehow manage to pay rent.