Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 10.28.15
Just Outside Washington


US Congressmen should live in Washington

It appears as if Paul Ryan is going to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. In his pronouncements about the speakership, I think that he exemplifies one of the things wrong with the Congress. To quote Paul Ryan:

"I cannot and I will not give up my family, I may not be on the road as often as previous speakers, but I pledge to make up for it with more time communicating our vision, our message."

I am all for family values, but this is ridiculous.

Ryan is known for flying home to Wisconsin every weekend from D.C. and to spend time with his three kids and wife. So what does this look like?

First, the House of Representatives will work, according to the Congressional Calendar, 132 days in 2015, which is scheduled in 31 work weeks. These work weeks are not quite like yours and mine; they typically start Monday around noon and end on Friday, around noon.

That is to allow Representatives, like Paul Ryan, to get to work on Monday and home on Friday in time for dinner. In Paul Ryan's case that works out something like this:

  • Janesville to Madison Airport, with parking allowance, about 1 hour
  • Arrive before flight time, 1 hour
  • Flight time, 2 hours
  • National Airport to the U.S. Capitol, 1/2 hour.
So if Paul Ryan leaves home at 7 a.m. on Monday that just works out. Reverse the process on Friday and Paul Ryan will be on the road about 280 hours in 2015, just commuting to work.

The cost of air fare alone will run about $20,000 and is most likely paid for by a federal allowance, i.e. the U.S. Taxpayer and not Paul Ryan's $174,000 salary, which will increase to $223,500 as Speaker.

In addition, Congressmen park in a special free lot, which costs the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority about $750,000 per year. (See, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, Congressional Salaries and Allowances and Bloomberg.)

The obvious alternative is to move to Washington. Congressmen living in Washington was the case into the 1980s; Lyndon Johnson did it, Gerry Ford did it, and even Newt Gingrich did it. Career military are transferred every two years or so and most move their families each time. In the corporate world, it is no different.

The advantage of having Congressmen and their families live in Washington is that they would be more of a community. Their children would attend the same schools and there would be socialization among Congressmen and spouses, as there was previously. This, to my way of thinking, would produce better governance.

Congressmen come to Washington to govern; as their oath of office says: they "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required" and not just represent the legitimate concerns or 'hobby horses' of their constituents back home.