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house Bill H.R. 5845

Should Members of Congress be Restricted From Sleeping in Their Offices & Get a Tax Deduction for Living Expenses?

Argument in favor

By sleeping in their offices, members of Congress create a hostile work environment for staffers and others who work in the Capitol building, who may run into improperly-dressed lawmakers or find themselves compelled to clean up after them. A tax deduction and a potential congressional dorm would offset the impact of limiting their ability to sleep in their office while eliminating the ethical problems of the status quo.

ZachNolan's Opinion
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10/04/2018
Regarding this bill I’m all for looking into the feasibility of creating a dorm for members of Congress. I would imagine that having your coworkers as neighbors would foster some deeper friendships and maybe even a better dialogue in Congress. Additionally we can’t think of everything in terms of “Well they’re Congresspeople so they’re rich.” Anyone can be elected to Congress. If I were to be elected I’d be very unhappy if I couldn’t afford to rent a house in Washington DC and had to sleep in an office meant for business.
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10/04/2018
Since the American people pay for that couch then they shouldn’t get paid to use it as a living expense. Plus we pay them very well to begin with. They should be paying for their living expenses out of their own pockets.
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Celia's Opinion
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10/04/2018
This amounts to double dipping. Taxpayers pay for the living allowance and then they get a deduction on top of that. Another example of our Republic being hijacked by selfishness and special interests. Bravo.
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Argument opposed

Sleeping in their offices allows members of Congress to work harder for their constituents, encourages bonding between members, and is fiscally responsible from a personal and governmental perspective. Using federal funds to subsidize members’ housing through tax deductions or the construction of congressional housing is irresponsible and inappropriate.

Ciel's Opinion
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10/04/2018
I already think politicians are overpaid, I am totally unwilling to pay for their housing.
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Rob's Opinion
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10/04/2018
Living expenses are generally not deductible, and members of Congress should not create tax breaks uniquely aimed at themselves. (As an aside, the 27th amendment may require that such a tax break not take effect until the next Congress, as it is effectively a pay increase.)
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Chickie's Opinion
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10/04/2018
You’ve got to be kidding me! Is this an example of our tax dollars at work? If this passes, then anyone who drives their vehicle (for whatever period of time), should receive a tax incentive for gas, repairs, car payments, etc. Why? Because during the time I drove my car, I was living in it! Our homes, apartments, restaurants were we eat, public bathrooms, all should be eligible as well. Sounds ludicrous right? So does this bill.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Ethics
      Committee on Rules
      Committee on Ways and Means
    IntroducedMay 16th, 2018

What is House Bill H.R. 5845?

This bill — the No Couches for Congress Act — would prevent House members from using their congressional offices for personal overnight accommodations for more than one night per month, or more than 10 nights per year. It would also amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a deduction of up to $3,000 a month for living expenses incurred by House members. Finally, it’d instruct Congress to issue a report on the feasibility of converting unused residence halls near the Capitol into a dorm for members of Congress.


Impact

Members of Congress; and the Internal Revenue Code.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 5845

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) introduced this bill to end the practice of members of Congress sleeping in their offices:

“News reports cite between 45 and 70 members of Congress sleep in their D.C. offices, creating potential tax, safety, and ethical concerns for Members and their staff. Members of Congress are not charged rent, utility, or cleaning bills for living and sleeping in their offices, which means they are using official resources for personal expenses. Members are also not charged lodging or residential taxes for lodging on Capitol Hill and could potentially open themselves to claims of impropriety by staff who encounter them in a state of undress in the office. I completely agree with the members who have called on the Ethics Committee to curb this wasteful and unhealthy practice. Office staff and cleaning personnel should not have to contend with members using their taxpayer-funded professional offices as a private lodging.”

In a letter to the Ethics Committee, 30 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) requested an investigation into the “legality and propriety” of members of Congress sleeping in their offices, writing that:

“Members who sleep overnight in their offices receive free lodging, free cable, free security, free cleaning services, and utilize other utilities free of charge in direct violation of the ethics rules which prohibit official resources from being used for personal purposes… Continuing to maintain a personal residence in Congressional offices, using Congressional resources for personal use (such as water, phone, utilities, etc.) and increasing or interfering with the work of housekeeping and maintenance staff brings discredit to the House and blatantly violates House ethics rules. Furthermore, Members’ maintaining a personal residence within House office buildings creates a hostile work environment for employees that work within the buildings. This practice calls into question the ethical standards set by the House and should be investigated and evaluated. It seems to use that, at a bare minimum, these Members should be taxed at the fair market value of a Capitol Hill apartment, much like the parking tax Members are required to pay for reserved spaces.”

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named Rep. Thompson its June 2018 “Porker of the Month” for this bill. CAGW’s President, Tom Schatz, said:

“Public service is not supposed to be comfortable or luxurious. Taxpayers send these men and women to Washington to work and pay them a salary that is more than three times that of an average American. Congress should focus on getting America’s fiscal house in order and spend less time trying to create a Congressional Animal House.”

The Bloomberg Editorial Board supports ending the practice of members of Congress sleeping in their offices, writing that:

“Fire codes aside, squatters benefit from free utilities, cable TV and internet access, and cleaning services. This may violate congressional ethics rules, which prohibit members from using official resources for anything other than incidental personal needs. At the least, lodging on government premises should be treated as a taxable fringe benefit -- in the same way that congressional parking spaces are. Aside from the legal considerations, there are other issues. The risk of elected representatives appearing in various states of undress is more than awkward -- it is unacceptable, especially given revelations about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the Capitol. Aides are often obliged to clean up their bosses' living quarters, which only adds to the dysfunction and abuse that characterizes office environments on the Hill… The U.S. Capitol was designed not as a congressional dormitory but as a place to conduct the people's business. As the bartender might say: You don't have to go home, lawmakers, but you can't stay here.”

In 2011, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate whether members sleeping in their offices were violating House rules and federal tax law. At that time, CREW noted House prohibitions against using “official resources” for anything other than official business, and argued that since IRS rules say lodging is generally a taxable fringe benefit, members should pay taxes for imputed income based on the fair market value of a comparably-sized Capitol Hill apartment. CREW’s former executive director, Melanie Sloan, said:

“If you’re sleeping in your office several nights a week, that’s far more than an incidental personal use. It’s clear that you’re misusing official resources.”

Nothing ever came out of CREW’s complaint — OCE either dismissed the allegations, or forwarded a recommendation to the House Ethics Committee that was then dropped by the panel.

The dorm idea in this bill has been panned by some members of Congress, including Reps. Dan Donovan (R-NY), Mike Bishop (R-MI), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), and Paul Ryan (R-WI). Rep. Donovan said:

“Our national debt is over $20 trillion, so I don’t think it’s a great use of taxpayer funds to build Congress a dorm. Sleeping in my office isn’t very comfortable, but it’s my choice to save for my daughter’s college instead of spending money on a DC apartment. I’m here to work, not relive my college days in a taxpayer-funded dorm.”

Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) defends the practice of sleeping in their offices as a way for members of Congress to build camaraderie, saying that he got to know a Democratic member of the House well because they were both sleeping in their offices, adding, “I wish that everyone [slept here]. I wish that there were barracks here.” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who’s one of the most prominent members of Congress who sleeps in their office, says sleeping in his office is a way for him to work harder for his constituents:

“I get up very early in the morning. I work out. I work until about 11:30 at night. I go to bed. And I do the same thing the next day. It actually makes me more efficient. I can actually get more work done by sleeping on a cot in my office.”

This bill has the support of 23 cosponsors, all of whom are Democrats.


Of Note: Sleeping in their offices is a practice common among conservatives, dating back to former Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX), who slept in the House gym. The number of Congress members sleeping in their offices, colloquially referred to the “in-office caucus,” increased with Tea Party Republicans’ arrival to Congress in 2010. Many of those members portray their refusal to rent property in Washington as a mark of virtue signifying rejection of the “swamp’s” corrupting culture.

Today, an increasing number of members of Congress are sleeping in their offices due to decade-long stagnant salaries and Washington, D.C.’s steep cost of living. Estimates put the number of House members who sleep in their offices at around 100 — and about 50 members, including Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), John Katko (D-NY) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) have publicly confirmed that they sleep in their offices.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY), who sleeps on a cot in an alcove in his office, cites his cot as the only reason he’s able to serve in Congress while still paying his New York City housing costs:

“Washington is too expensive. 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. I don’t think that was the intent of our Founding Fathers.”

However, claims that members of Congress can’t afford housing in D.C. should be taken with a grain of salt: it’s worth noting that the average monthly cost of a studio in D.C. is $1,602, which is less than 10% of members’ annual salariesThe average American spends 33% of their annual income on housing.

Many state legislatures cover their legislators’ living costs while they’re in their state capitols. In New York, state lawmakers receive $175 for each day that they’re in Albany; in California, state lawmakers receive $183 for each day they’re in Sacramento; and in Texas, lawmakers receive $190 for each day they’re in Austin.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / dkfielding)

AKA

No Couches for Congress Act

Official Title

To prohibit Members of the House of Representatives from using their congressional offices for personal overnight accommodations and to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a deduction for living expenses incurred by Members of the House of Representatives, and for other purposes.

    Regarding this bill I’m all for looking into the feasibility of creating a dorm for members of Congress. I would imagine that having your coworkers as neighbors would foster some deeper friendships and maybe even a better dialogue in Congress. Additionally we can’t think of everything in terms of “Well they’re Congresspeople so they’re rich.” Anyone can be elected to Congress. If I were to be elected I’d be very unhappy if I couldn’t afford to rent a house in Washington DC and had to sleep in an office meant for business.
    Like (39)
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    I already think politicians are overpaid, I am totally unwilling to pay for their housing.
    Like (155)
    Follow
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    Living expenses are generally not deductible, and members of Congress should not create tax breaks uniquely aimed at themselves. (As an aside, the 27th amendment may require that such a tax break not take effect until the next Congress, as it is effectively a pay increase.)
    Like (113)
    Follow
    Share
    You’ve got to be kidding me! Is this an example of our tax dollars at work? If this passes, then anyone who drives their vehicle (for whatever period of time), should receive a tax incentive for gas, repairs, car payments, etc. Why? Because during the time I drove my car, I was living in it! Our homes, apartments, restaurants were we eat, public bathrooms, all should be eligible as well. Sounds ludicrous right? So does this bill.
    Like (73)
    Follow
    Share
    Since the American people pay for that couch then they shouldn’t get paid to use it as a living expense. Plus we pay them very well to begin with. They should be paying for their living expenses out of their own pockets.
    Like (38)
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    All of the serious issues we have going on in this country and we are discussing where people sleep? Wow!
    Like (26)
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    Let them sleep in their office if they like; it’ll be a nicer place to stay than where some Americans have to sleep every night. There’s definitely no need to give them a tax break.
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    Hell no!! Let them live off their salaries like the rest of us have to. We don’t get a living allowance why should they?
    Like (23)
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    Having trouble paying for a place to live on the salary you receive? So do a lot of Americans. Get a second job like you tell your constituents. Congress makes well above minimum wage and has great healthcare. That's better than many Americans.
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    This amounts to double dipping. Taxpayers pay for the living allowance and then they get a deduction on top of that. Another example of our Republic being hijacked by selfishness and special interests. Bravo.
    Like (15)
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    They already have the best healthcare, funded retirement, and ability to set their own pay. Which are they willing to give up for the stipend? (The rest of us would be taxed by the IRS for this fringe benefit.)
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    The American people don't get either of those as part of their jobs. I'm opposed to this unless the American people that some of which work multiple jobs can get those as well.
    Like (10)
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    No actually let’s say they are working on an important bill and they want to sleep, let them. I think it’s better than making them waste time and go home and sleep and then come back.
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    Members of Congress already have enough financial perks. They don’t need more.
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    Members of Congress make a VERY GOOD SALARY. What's more, all but a handful of them are wealthy before they ever get elected. They can damned well pay for their own housing, or else they can live in HUD dormitories, one and all, and just make use of communal, clubhouse residences when they need to 'impress someone'.
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    These ungrateful people ALREADY MAKE TOO MUCH MONEY and can even vote themselves a raise, and seemingly work for life without term limits...PLUS PERKS AND PAYOFFS. NO FREAKING WAY! GO HOME OR TO NEAREST MOTEL and pay YOUR CASH TO SLEEP..DIRTBAGS!
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    Enough with the special treatment for congress. Does this mean I can deduct my living expenses, since I live in the location I do primarily because of work? This is the job that was signed up for. Rent a reasonably priced apartment and take public transportation, or set up congressional housing, paid for by the congress member, not the taxpayer. Every job comes with its own expenses, and public office was the job chosen. At about 138 days in session and a full year of pay at 3 times the national median income, congressional retirement, and congressional healthcare, there is no justification for more allowances and special treatment for an already privileged class. Feeling slighted or underpaid, despite these benefits? Go into the private sector.
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    Employees are not allowed to live in their cubicle or office, so congresspersons can’t either. Concerning tax deductible housing expenses: If they get it then all Americans who make less than they do, including benefits, stipends, kickbacks, retirement, etc, must get to do the same. BTW: I’m still waiting for their health insurance coverage at the price they pay for it.
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    Quite frankly I don't want any congressmen sleeping in their offices but at the same time I cannot support a huge tax break for them either. They should be barred from using their offices for apartments but they should have to provide their own housing just like everyone else.
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    They can get a motel and their wives can flip burgers. They are already overpaid.
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