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Congressional Dorm Needed

What people normally do when they get a job located in Seattle is move to the Seattle area. And when people get a job located in Chicago, they typically move to the Chicago area. And when people get a job located in Washington, they typically move to the Washington area. It’s common sense. But over the past few decades, a weird tradition has developed whereby people who get jobs as members of the US Congress don’t move to Washington and instead awkwardly commute back and forth between DC and their homes. But of course you can’t go to Washington and back every morning, so you need accommodations in the DC area. But maintaining two households is expensive, so many members of congress sleep in their offices.

Jamelle Bouie isn’t pleased, asking “Who is more serious about legislating? The member who sacrifices his well-being for bragging rights, or the member who treats himself well with the aim of peak performance?”

That said, I understand the symbolism of refusing decent accommodations; they are doing “the people’s work,” and the people — supposedly — wouldn’t stand for representatives who spent a little money on themselves. It’s somewhat laudable, but mostly silly.

On a related note, if members can’t afford decent accommodation, then maybe we should pay them more, instead of making symbolic cuts to their salaries.

I think affordability is actually a genuine concern here. If you’re only in DC part time, you’re going to want a place that’s a super-convenient commute to congress. And while that kind of housing should be affordable on a congressman’s salary, it can be quite hard to afford as your second home unless you have pre-election wealth.

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Fortunately, I think a solution is at hand that doesn’t involve an across the board congressional pay raise. Instead, Congress needs to repurpose the dread Capitol South parking lot:

Instead of an open air lot, they should build some spartan cheap dorm-style accommodations here for members and their staff. It would be attractive to thrifty members of congress, to interns, to folks new to town who want a place to sleep while they figure out where they really want to live, and possibly to people with low-paying entry level jobs. Using the land as a congressional parking lot is already congress giving itself a perk. But right now it’s a very inefficient perk. Turning it into a dorm would be a little short-term stimulus project and then we could solve this problem. Plus it would give the poorer members a chance to hang out across party lines and develop class resentment against their richer colleagues.