Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wide awake in Washington: some congressmen choose cheap over sleep

Part of being a Washington lawmaker is living out of a suitcase. When in session, senators and congressmen split time between their home districts and the capital. This brings up a unique problem: the need for two regular places to sleep.

As anyone who’s ever lived in Washington D.C. can attest, renting a place isn’t cheap, especially when there’s a mortgage to pay back home. The Chicago Tribune estimates as many as one in 10 congress members turn to a time-honored solution – sleeping in their offices.

Each night he’s in Washington, Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley turns his office into a makeshift bedroom by rolling out a flimsy mattress and sheets and pillows he stores in a filing cabinet. He posts a sign on his door warning third-shift cleaning crews not to disturb his slumber.

Quigley, who makes $174,000 a year, says his two daughters’ private college tuitions and his home in the north side of Chicago are already enough of a financial burden.

Fellow Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski estimates he’s saved about $90,000 in the five years since he got rid of his Maryland apartment and started sleeping on a full-size mattress and box spring in a small room near his main office space.

The downside is the sleep isn’t so good.

Lipinski uses earplugs and a sound machine to drown out police sirens, train whistles and other city noises.

“This is a loud town. The torture of getting up every two hours is tough,” Quigley said describing the frequently interrupted sleep he gets in his office.

“It’s not a lot of fun,” Republican John Shimkus told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s not a real restful sleep. Even mentally, I think it’s important to get off the Hill. It’s important to get away.”

Shimkus now shares a townhouse outside the Beltway with several colleagues.

Another reason lawmakers cite for sleeping in their offices is image. Lawmakers want to show they’re loyal to their constituents, not the Washington establishment.

There still isn’t an exact tally on how many congressmen crash in the capitol when they’re in town. Quigley says top House officials mentioned offhand there were 30-40.

No known senators are in that group.

Image by afagen

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