Noem sleeps on a pullout in her office. She described her morning routine this way:
“There’s a gym in the basement, so I get up in the morning and go down to the member’s gym and work out with a group of people,” she said. “And then I go to the women’s gym and shower and put my makeup on and stuff and come back up here and get dressed.”
…The most prominent member of this “Couch Caucus”? Newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’s been sleeping in his office for years.
The Wisconsin Republican told CNN’s Dana Bash in a recent interview that he would keep doing it even if he is, now, second in line to the presidency [Susan Davis, “Meet the Lawmakers Who Sleep, Shower, Work—All on Capitol Hill,” NPR, 2015.12.26].
The Couch Caucus… ah, those predawn conversations as they pad down to the gym in their slippers ought to help South Dakota’s interests advance up the agenda.
Davis reports that the Capitol crashers find it hard to swing the $2,000-per-month rents in the Capitol neighborhood on their $174,000 salaries (new Speaker Ryan just bumped up to $223,500). Of course, as an eager reader points out, Noem’s and Ryan’s staffers all make less than that, and they don’t get to bring a cot and a duffel bag to Capitol Hill. Nor do they have the luxury of Uncle Sam paying for their flights home every weekend. They have to brave the D.C. housing market… where a casual search of Apartments.com finds 275 rental units within 15 bicycle minutes of the Capitol for $2,000 or less.
Members of Congress receive no housing allowance, so Noem and Ryan aren’t saving the taxpayers any money. They are actually taking advantage of 100% government subsidized housing, arguably in violation of House ethics rules and federal tax law:
Four years ago, the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether members who sleep in their offices violate House rules and federal tax law.
The group noted House prohibitions against using “official resources” for anything other than official business, and against spending a member’s official allowance on personal expenses. And, since IRS rules say lodging is generally a taxable fringe benefit, CREW argued, members sleeping in Cannon, Longworth or Rayburn should pay taxes for imputed income based on the fair market value of a comparably sized Capitol Hill apartment.
Nothing ever came of the complaint. The independent ethics office either dismissed the allegations or forwarded a recommendation to the House Ethics Committee and that panel chose to drop the matter. (In either case, there wouldn’t have been any public announcement.) And House Ethics, which has “pink sheets” offering members guidance through a range of behavioral gray areas, has no document explaining the do’s and don’ts of combining a congressional office and a home away from home — suggesting the committee views the practice as unambiguously above-board [David Hawkings, “Members Living in Their Offices Rent-Free Adds Up,” Roll Call: Hawkings Here, 2015.05.21].
Davis says the House has scheduled 83 days of activity in 2016. Noem will fold up her cot and jet home every weekend to watch sporting events and beat back any Daschle-phobic perception that she’s gone Washington. Her staff will stay in Washington, paying rent and mortgages, and getting the real work of representing South Dakota done.