House Democrats have a new strategy to force their fellow members of Congress to feel the pain of the shutdown — stripping them of their gym privileges.
Such a move would not just block members from burning carbs, though. It would also prevent the members who sleep in their offices from availing themselves of the showers that keep them from offending.
Democratic Reps. Patrick Murphy of Florida and Bill Foster of Illinois are outraged that members are “still able to access the taxpayer-funded gym, sauna and steam room while tens of thousands of federal employees remain furloughed,” and the Capitol’s janitorial staff “are still required to clean the gym and restock it with towels and other ‘essential items.’”
The pair wrote a letter to gather support for their Shutdown Prioritization Act, or “SPA Act.”
The bill is a tool to prohibit Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, from ordering Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers to operate the gym during the shutdown.
Ayers has kept the private gym open to members since Oct. 1, despite the fact that AOC cleaning crews have been cut to skeletal levels in the wake of the shutdown.
Several members of Congress, whether in an effort to show they haven’t “gone Washington” or just because they’re too cheap to rent an apartment in the District, bunk in their congressional offices and opt to shower in the gym.
Some of them might be drying off with dirty towels, as laundry services have also been curtailed.
Others have been using the cardio machines to blow off steam, but even Congress’ most avid exercisers are noting that keeping the gym open amid nationwide furloughs is hard to rationalize.
“As somebody who has begun every day in the House gym since I first arrived in Congress, I know what an important institution it is,” Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer wrote his fellow members on Tuesday. “Nonetheless, it seems to me inappropriate to continue to have the House Members gym open when the gym for our staff members has been closed.”
The congressman, an avid cyclist who commutes to work on a bike and sports an omnipresent bicycle lapel pin, is collecting signatures for a letter to Boehner that respectfully requests the Ohio Republican shutter the doors of the gym. With furloughed workers worrying about paychecks and vulnerable folks waiting for essential services, Blumenauer said it seems “a small price for members to pay to do without this services as long as the shutdown continues.”
Not all Democrats are on board. Rep. Bruce Braley said the gym is one of the “few places where Republicans and Democrats actually talk to each other,” during a Wednesday interview with radio talk show host Bill Press.
“Down there you can find out what people did before they came to Congress. You can find out about their families. You can talk to them about areas of common interest,” the Iowa Democrat said. “I find it ironic that there’s this big push to shut down the House gym when it’s one of the rare places people come together and actually talk about how we can build relationships, which is the only way we’re going to get out of this.”
Braley compared the House gym to a private employer’s in-house workout facilities, noting that he pays an annual fee of about $260 to be a member.
Braley laughed off the letter from Murphy and Foster, especially the part about freshly stocked towels.
“They must not have been down to the gym lately. There’s hardly anybody working down there. There’s no towel service,” he said, adding, “We’re doing our own laundry down there.”
The gym was an issue during the 1995-1996 standoff, when it was closed and then reopened after members complained about the closure.