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Sleeping in the Office (Congress Edition)

Via the NYTFor House Members Looking to Save Money, a Day at the Office Never Ends

Hansen Clarke, a newly elected Democrat from Michigan, is coming to Washington with a “warrior’s mentality” to help stave off unemployment and foreclosures in metro Detroit. He plans to hole up in his “bunker” — his Longworth House office, where he will work (“practically around the clock”), eat (“healthy options” like microwaved sweet potatoes) and sleep (most likely on a mattress and sleeping bag combination).

“Washington is not going to be a home for me — I’m only there to work,” Mr. Clarke said. “I need to be able to work up to 20 hours a day and still get some decent sleep, and if I sleep in my office I’ll be able to do that.”

Mr. Clarke is one of as many as a dozen freshman House members who plan to bunk in their offices when Congress is in session. Though no one has hard numbers, anecdotal evidence suggests that at least 40 to 50 House members, both new and old, will be sleeping at work.

My first reaction is that what these guys need is the carpenter who built a sleep station in a desk for George Costanza in the Seinfeld episode “The Nap.”

My second reaction is:  while I want my members of Congress to work hard, I am not sure that what we should want as a country are Representatives working 20 hour days and then catching four hours of sleep in their offices and showering at the House gym.  This doesn’t strike me as work habits likely to induce cogent work output.

Third, I am not sure that cocooning oneself in the Capitol and its tunnel-connected office buildings doesn’t create a more distorted view of reality than does having a residence in DC.

On balance, I think that the following description is fairly accurate:

Skeptics argue that the arrangements do not actually save the taxpayers money — if anything, they say, members should have to pay Congress a small stipend for the added resources they use at night. They also complain that the practice can feel like a macho boys club, that it promotes a fierce anti-Washington sentiment that hurts bipartisanship and that, frankly, it just seems weird.

The “boy club” reference is gratuitous, I will allow, although it is accurate as far as it goes:  the members of the “couch caucus” are all male.  I will say that we know good and well that Representatives living off campus (so to speak) can still lead to Congressmen behaving badly (as those who remember the Ensign/Sanford/Pickering/others house o’ affairs can attest).

Still, if part of the alleged problem with Congress really is that politicians are “out of touch” then it would seem this type of lifestyle would further exacerbate, not alleviate, such an issue.  Although I suppose it does save individual members money.

Apparently, the practice is not new with the 112th, as the story notes that Dick Armey used to sleep in his office as well.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Morning Joe mentioned having done it, saying that Washington is an expensive place. Better to spend the money on the family back home. Something like that.

    You know, until those “blind” trusts start benefiting from legislation.

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  2. Jeff Q. says:

    Bob Inglis made a big deal out of doing it when he took office in ’92 (his first stint in congress when he actually went along with his self-imposed term limit.) He was also flying back to SC every weekend too.

    Mark Sanford and a few others in the class of ’94 made a big deal out of doing this as well. I think some people later cast doubts on how often Sanford actually did it.

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  3. hln says:

    Used to work for a technology company in St. Louis, and a guy who lived mostly on the west coast would do that when he was in town helping us. He’d just hole up in his cubicle and sleep when he was done coding. Helped that we kept the overhead lights off, but, all in all, to early bird me, I often found his sleeping while I was working in the same (large) room a bit odd.

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  4. Franklin says:

    My second reaction is: while I want my members of Congress to work hard, I am not sure that what we should want as a country are Representatives working 20 hour days and then catching fours of sleep in their offices and showering at the House gym.

    They’re not “working” 20 hour days. They are most likely raising campaign money for 19 hours, and working 1.

    Until we decide to have public financing, the problem will only get worse. Not to mention, it’ll maim some other birds like lobbyists.

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  5. There was a time in the past when Congressman bunked together or shared a home as a matter of course. Perhaps we need to build a Congressional barracks where they can spend the night

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  6. @Franklin: I do understand that legislators aren’t legislating 20 hours a day, I was just addressing the guy on his own asserted terms.

    @Doug: roommates makes sense (and I think it is still common).

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  7. Steven,

    It is and the comments about the cost of living are largely accurate. Finding housing near Capitol Hill usually means a townhouse that can start at $ 800,000 and up to buy. As you can imagine, rent at such a place isn’t cheap.

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  8. Alex Knapp says:

    As you can imagine, rent at such a place isn’t cheap.

    Especially when you have to maintain a residence in your home state, as well, that you have to fly to often enough so that your residency requirements don’t get challenged.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    you have to fly to often enough so that your residency requirements don’t get challenged

    Seldom an issue these days as Congressmen, especially those in the House and without long tenure, go back several weekends a month just to press the flesh and do the other things required for re-election. It’s rare when a Congressman spends a weekend in Washington.

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  10. This Guy says:

    I think the country is safer when Congressmen are NOT in DC…so I would look for new Congressmen to spend less time in the Capitol and more time talking and listening to the people of their districts.

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  11. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    One of the reasons that Blanche Lincoln lost her election last year is that she bought a big home in Washington and rarely spent any time in Arkansas. She was viewed as being out of touch with her constituents.

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  12. Bleev K says:

    Aren’t they staying with the pages?

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  13. John Burgess says:

    After a really quick look, I’m seeing 1BR apartments from $1,400 and 2BR up to $2700 on Capitol Hill. I used to rent my 3BR townhouse for $1800 and it was just blocks from the Capitol.

    Sharing still makes economic sense and it’s still done. There are still rooming houses that let single rooms to congressmen, for less than $500/mo.

    Just about anywhere in DC or the close-in suburbs, particularly those with Metro access, are entirely workable.

    The cost of the second dwelling (rent and utilities) is completely tax deductible for Congressmen, so frugality isn’t really much of an excuse. Lack of time to get organized is more likely.

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