'Homeless' U.S. lawmakers who sleep in offices spark fears of virus spread

One of Washington's many open secrets is that for some members of Congress, their office doubles as their bedroom out of convenience or cost-cutting when the legislature is in session.

But as concerns about spreading coronavirus abound, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., is pushing for a ban on the practice.

The practice is de facto eliminated when the House of Representatives is not in session, but members are expected to return to Washington soon, so the urgency of addressing the problem," Speier wrote in a letter to the Architect of the Capitol and Attending Physician of Congress.

"This pandemic demonstrates how rapidly and easily viruses and other health threats can be transmitted from person-to-person," she wrote. "It’s highly possible that other communicable diseases have been transmitted more rapidly due to Members living in their offices."

Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., feels differently. He has a pulldown bed complete with a Tempur-Pedic mattress in his congressional office, he told USA Today.

"I wanted my focus to be back here in North Carolina, where I represent the 13th district," Budd told USA Today. "I didn't want it to be a Washington lifestyle."

For years, the issue has divided members of Congress, some of whom balk at the high cost of living in Washington. The nation's capital is the fifth most expensive metropolitan area with a median monthly rent of $3,002, according to 2019 analysis by Quicken Loans.

Members of Congress earn $174,000 a year. Paying the median monthly rent in Washington, D.C., would account for about $36,000 of that annual salary, which members of Congress who aren't independently wealthy must use for housing in their home states as well.

The difficulties of paying for two residences has prompted some members of Congress to advocate for solutions like tax deductions or stipends to make running for office more feasible for middle-class candidates. For example, former Rep. Jason Chaffetz called for a $2,500 per month housing allowance in 2017, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., proposed a ban on sleeping in offices plus a tax deduction for lawmakers' living expenses in 2018.