It’s not unusual for lawmakers in the nation’s capital to crash on the couch in their offices after a long day’s work at the Capitol. But a new bill supported by some representatives who look down on the practice could put an end to that.
Congress members spearheading the proposal feel sleeping in offices violates IRS and congressional ethics and rules.
Lawmakers who couch-crash in their office have access to the congressional gym in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building. For a yearly payment of $300, they have access to laundry, showers and lockers. Members in opposition say that, along with free electricity, cable and janitorial services, bends the rules too far.
Representatives who do spend the night in their offices say the cost of living in Washington, D.C. is too high. Everyone from House Speaker Paul Ryan to Buffalo congressman Brian Higgins admit to occasionally sleeping in their offices.
Higgins says many representatives maintain homes in their district and can’t afford to pay for another. He said there is no alternative to sleeping in his office if he gets let off the floor late at night.
“As one who sleeps in his office, there are long days in Washington. I find it very convenient and it works for me,” Higgins said. “It’s part of my work environment and I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
As a member of the House, representatives earn a salary of $174,000 a year, which has remained stagnant for the last decade. Many reps previously received compensation in the form of per diem when serving in their home states. New York State lawmakers receive $175 each day they are in Albany.
Monthly rent for one-bedroom apartments in the nation’s capital are among the highest in the country and can cost anywhere from $1,600 to upwards of $2,000. Higgins said he doesn’t have the resources to support a second home.
“If members want to make an issue, they can make an issue out of it. The cost of living in Washington is very expensive. I can’t afford it,” Higgins said. “I can’t afford to maintain two homes. There’s a lot of people that resort to staying in their office, probably close to 100.”
Higgins says he is okay with the issue getting attention, as it might lead to a per diem for federal lawmakers. But the bill, which could be introduced to the House as soon as this month, leaves him unsure about his future living arrangements in the capital.
“I’d have to find some way to find housing,” Higgins said Thursday. "A homeless shelter may work for me."