by Cristina Marcos · June 10, 2019
A House Democrat is pushing legislation that would prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) submitted an amendment to the appropriations package, which includes funding for legislative branch operations, that would ban lawmakers from using their offices as sleeping quarters.
Many lawmakers — the precise number is unknown, but it’s estimated to be in the dozens — have taken to sleeping in their offices in recent years to save money on expensive Washington rent.
But other members, including Rice, have been pushing back, saying it puts staff in an awkward position.
Rice said she’s heard from staffers who’ve reported seeing male lawmakers walking down the hall in the early morning in T-shirts and boxers.
“That’s just not appropriate,” Rice said in an interview on Monday. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for members of Congress to treat his or her office as a personal residence.”
And in the “Me Too” era that has ensnared some male lawmakers over sexual harassment in recent years, Rice warned that staffers can be forced into uncomfortable situations if their bosses use the office as a bedroom.
“It just creates an atmosphere that increases the chances of an awkward interaction with a staff member,” Rice said. “At worst, it creates an environment where it makes it easier for a member to harass or abuse their employees.”
House Democratic leaders opted Monday evening to delay consideration of the legislative branch due to the lawmaker pay issue while still moving forward with the rest of the appropriations package for other agencies including the Defense and State Departments.
It’s the first time Rice has introduced such an amendment, which comes as the spending package would allow members of Congress to get a cost-of-living adjustment for the first time in a decade.
Rice said she supports the $4,500 cost-of-living adjustment for lawmakers, which she thinks is necessary to address the root of the office-sleeping problem.
“I just think it’s time we have this conversation,” Rice said.
Rank-and-file members of Congress currently earn $174,000 per year. Members of leadership earn more, with the Speaker making $223,500 annually while the House majority and minority leaders earn $193,400.
Lawmakers enacted a pay freeze that began in 2010 amid the recession to block annual cost-of-living adjustments as laid out in a 1989 ethics law. Members are set to receive a $4,500 pay bump in January unless they move to block it like in recent years.
And while lawmakers’ six-figure salaries are well above the typical American household income, it can be difficult to maintain homes in the pricey Washington real estate market as well as back in their districts.
Still, more than a dozen lawmakers in both parties are pushing back on the proposed cost-of-living adjustment with amendments to the spending package that would prevent it from taking effect.
Lawmakers opposed to the cost-of-living adjustment include several swing-district House Democratic freshmen, including Reps. Jared Golden (Maine), Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.), Elaine Luria (Va.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Andy Kim (N.J.), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.) and Ben McAdams (Utah).
Some lawmakers have also argued that office-sleeping is an ethics violation because it amounts to using official resources for personal purposes.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, earlier this year suggested that lawmakers could receive allowances or be allowed to deduct costs from their taxes as ways to help pay for housing.
The Hill · by Cristina Marcos · June 10, 2019
by Cristina Marcos · June 10, 2019