Washington: Meet the Congressmen who say they can’t afford apartments, sleeping in offices and  cry poverty

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These Congress members are sleeping on the job — and defending their right to do it.

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.”

But some of the penny-pinching pols’ colleagues 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 (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.

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, US 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 House and Senate leadership 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.

While there is no official tally of the number of House hobos who turn their offices into makeshift bedrooms, interviews with members and several Post stakeouts of the congressional gym — where the live-in lawmakers shower — put the estimate at around 100 representatives, or more than one-fifth of the governing body. Publicly, about 50 members have ‘fessed up to it.

Their ranks include everyone from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to New York Reps. Donovan, Gregory Meeks (D-Queens/LI), Lee Zeldin (R-LI), John Katko (R-Syracuse) and Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo).

Zeldin, a military veteran, said sleeping on a bed he stores in his office closet makes him more efficient.

“It must be the Army in me,” said the politician from Shirley. “Literally, from the moment I wake up from the moment I go to sleep, I’m just working without distraction. It’s just the way I’m wired.”

US Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), also an Army veteran, said he previously rented an apartment in DC with then-US Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) where they would each pay about $1,800 a month. That all changed when Murphy lost a Senate bid against Marco Rubio in 2016. Walz, a former teacher, said he now sleeps on an office cot.

“I’m not complaining,’’ he said. “It’s just figuring how to make all your finances work.”

A House member’s office usually has a reception area, a cramped section of work space for staff and a separate office for the politician with a seating area and desk. There is no kitchen or shower.”

What makes overnights in the office possible is Congress’ members-only gym in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building. With an annual fee of roughly $300, members have access to showers, laundry and lockers.

A typical morning routine for the sleepover pols is to tuck away their makeshift bed and head to the gym for a workout. They then shower and usually get suited up there before their staffers arrive back at the office around 8 or 9 a.m.

“Nobody is going to see me like this,” said Higgins one recent morning at the gym while sporting earbuds, a long-sleeve T-shirt and workout pants.

The lawmaker from Buffalo said he used to split the rent for a basement apartment, paying $1,200 a month, but resorted to sleeping on a couch in his office when the college bills for his two kids began piling up.

“I don’t really view it as free housing,’’ he said. And “to be honest, it’s really convenient to the lifestyle. There’s a gym here. There’s a shower there. There’s a towel service there.

“There’s a laundry service for gym clothing.’’

US Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) emerged from the congressional gym in sweaty scrubs after a workout and bemoaned efforts by his colleagues to ban office sleeping for budget-challenged lawmakers such as himself.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Scott said. “I can’t afford an apartment.”

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-Washington Heights/NY) said couch-crashing isn’t for him, even though he, too, faces a high cost of living back home in New York City.

“My couch is too hard. I’d wake up with a stiff neck every morning,’’ the lawmaker quipped.

Instead, Espaillat said, he found an option: an apartment with rent well south of $1,800 in nearby Virginia.

“I’m probably one of the poorest members of Congress,’’ he said.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) also doesn’t sleep in his office, but he said he can sympathize with those who do — and worries that Congress won’t represent America if only wealthy people can afford to serve. He supports a cost-of-living hike for members’ salaries, which haven’t increased since 2009.

But some House members, including New York’s Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-Utica/Rome) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn), balk at any hint of increasing congressional members’ bottom lines.

The issue is a particularly sticky one for lawmakers, who already take heat from constituents for what are seen as Washington’s bloated spending habits.

“We don’t deserve to talk about a pay raise for Congress until we balance the budget,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).

Mississippi’s Thompson, who is one of those sponsoring the bill to ban congressional sleepovers, said he recognizes that either way, something has to change.

Source: New York Post

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Kennedy Mornah is an Award Winning Ghanaian Journalist with over two decades of experience in the Ghanaian Media landscape spanning the electronic, print and digital media. He is a Media Consultant, a Corporate MC, Radio and TV Host, Founder and Publisher of the Maritime and Transport Digest Newspaper, Businessman, a Go getter and an optimist. He has worked for renowned media organizations including Diamond Fm in Tamale, Luv Fm in Kumasi, Oman Fm in Accra and Starr Fm in Accra In 2017 he received the Reporter of the Year Award at the Ghana Shippers Awards in Accra, Ghana.

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