House Democrats are eyeing a ban on lawmakers sleeping in their offices as part of an overhaul of the chamber rules to take effect next year.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee who has been soliciting reform proposals from rank-and-file Democrats for months, said the notion of prohibiting lawmakers from using their offices as rent-free accommodations in Washington, D.C., has broad support within the caucus.
He cautioned, however, that it’s uncertain if the proposal will be included in the larger packet dictating House rules that Democratic leaders are currently cobbling together. That package must be adopted by Jan. 3.
A number of suggestions — including the ban on sleeping in the office and issues surrounding the adoption of pay-as-you-go rules — remain in the discussion phase, McGovern said. But “a lot of people” are pushing for the prohibition on office accommodations, he added.
“There are a lot of well-intentioned proposals,” he cautioned. “Some of them have unintended consequences.”
The issue of sleeping in offices on Capitol Hill has stirred controversy for years. Most of the critics question why taxpayers should underwrite room and board for lawmakers who earn publicly provided salaries of at least $174,000 a year — almost three times the median salary of the average family across the country.
Other critics have raised issues related to sanitation, while still others have noted the risk of embarrassing encounters between slumbering lawmakers and office cleaning crews of the opposite gender — an issue that carries additional significance in the "Me Too" era.
It’s unclear how many lawmakers currently sleep in their offices, and the reasons given run across a spectrum of justifications. Some cite the simple financial squeeze of having to maintain two residences. Some conservatives, meanwhile, say they simply don’t want any attachments to the Washington establishment — an anti-“swamp” badge of honor they can take back to their districts.
Among the lawmakers who have eschewed District residences is Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.).
The debate surfaced earlier in the year, when members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) asked the Ethics Committee to determine whether living in Capitol Hill’s office buildings violates chamber rules.
“I don’t think that the House should be supplementing our income,” said a Democratic lawmaker who’s supporting the ban.
The lawmaker acknowledged the high cost of living in Washington but suggested the adoption of living allowances, or some of other system of need-based financial support, in lieu of office accommodations.
“If you’re trying to save your money, then what is happening here financially needs to be addressed,” the lawmaker said. “It doesn’t need to be supplemented by you living here. I just don’t think that’s right.”
The stipend proposal has been floated before, most recently by former Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCongress's latest hacking investigation should model its most recent Fox News Audio expands stable of podcasts by adding five new shows The myth of the conservative bestseller MORE (R-Utah), who called for a $2,500-per-month housing allowance just days before he resigned from Congress last year.
Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), former ranking member of the Ethics Committee, said she’s sympathetic to both sides of the debate. But she also suggested that a full ban on office living without some form of additional compensation risks creating a plutocracy, if lawmakers of moderate means are priced out of D.C.’s skyrocketing housing market.
“I’m not going to condemn people, but I do think we need to have a serious discussion about what do we do about the fact that without housing allowances, or per diem [payments], the kinds of members who are able to actually serve will be increasingly just the super-wealthy,” Sánchez said.
“And that’s problematic.”