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Capitol Hill Lawmakers Find Living At The Office Makes Sense, Saves Cents

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

There are three office buildings on the House side of the U.S. Capitol that by day, serve as offices for members of Congress and by night, as their apartments. Dozens of lawmakers choose to sleep on cots, futons and pull-out sofas when the Congress is in session. For some, it's good politics. For others, it's just a good way to save a buck. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis has more.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: When South Dakota Republican Kristi Noem was looking for a new office at the beginning of this Congress, she knew she'd need one thing in particular - closet space.

KRISTI NOEM: There's storage in this room here for my blankets and pillows.

DAVIS: Noem is a part of a group of lawmakers who live in their offices when Congress is in session. She walked me through her morning routine in a recent interview in her bedroom/office.

NOEM: There's a gym in the basement. So I get up in the morning, go down to the members' gym and workout with a group of people. And then I go to the women's gym and shower and put on my makeup and stuff and then come back up here and get dressed.

DAVIS: Sleeping in the office is not without some hazards, Noem says. One night in her old office, she was working late on her laptop when an unwelcome visitor arrived.

NOEM: And I look and down the hallway, this mouse just comes walking down the hallway like he owned the place.

DAVIS: Now, Noem is a farmer and a rancher. But she was so freaked out, she called a male staffer back to the office to help catch the mouse. They couldn't find it, so for her peace of mind, she had him duct tape the bottom of her office door.

NOEM: So that it wouldn't come in while I was sleeping (laughter).

DAVIS: The most prominent member of this couch caucus - newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan. He's been sleeping in his office for years. Here's how the Wisconsin Republican explained it in a recent interview with CNN's Dana Bash.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANA BASH: Your office is also your apartment, your bed, your - the place that you live.

PAUL RYAN: Everybody brings this up.

BASH: You're the speaker now. You're really going to still sleep in your office?

RYAN: Yeah, I'm just a normal guy. I - look...

BASH: Yeah, but normal guys don't sleep in their offices.

DAVIS: Maybe it's not normal, but there's no rules against it. There's also no official data on how many do it. Lawmakers estimate at least 40 House members sleep in their offices.

ANDY BARR: I think there's more than you might expect.

DAVIS: That's Kentucky Republican Andy Barr. He sleeps on a futon in his office.

BARR: There's quite a few of us, particularly the younger members with young families back home in our districts. There's quite a few - men and women.

DAVIS: Let's be clear, Noem is one of very few women who sleep in their office. Most of them are Republican men. It can be particularly helpful to conservatives to make it known back home they're not getting too comfortable in Washington. When Republican Bill Huizenga campaigned for the Michigan seat, vacated by Republican Pete Hoekstra, voters wanted to know three things.

BILL HUIZENGA: People would ask me, what am I going to do about spending? What am I going to do about Obamacare? And am I sleeping on my couch like Pete?

DAVIS: Hoekstra was a well-known member of the couch caucus. The transition was easy for Huizenga because as he explains it...

HUIZENGA: I'm a cheap Dutchman.

DAVIS: A handful of Democrats sleep in their offices, too, though Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley says he's not trying to make a political statement.

MIKE QUIGLEY: It's not something I'm thrilled about. It's just circumstances.

DAVIS: Quigley started sleeping in his office in part to save money to put his two daughters through college. Every lawmaker I talked to told me saving money was the main reason they do it. Even though members of Congress make $174,000 a year, maintaining a residence in the neighborhoods around the U.S. Capitol can easily cost around $2000 a month. That's a waste of money if you're only staying in Washington a few nights a week. Here's Mike Quigley again.

QUIGLEY: Next year's schedule for the House activities - we're here 83 nights. So you're paying rent in a very expensive neighborhood for 282 nights that you're not here.

DAVIS: Because next year is an election year, lawmakers will spend even less time in Washington. So sleeping in the office is not just practical but maybe also good politics. Susan Davis NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.