Cubbyhole in Cannon Tests Rules

Posted May 24, 2010 at 6:36pm

The Republican Study Committee, the caucus of conservative House Republicans, occupies an office belonging to Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) on the first floor of the Cannon House Office Building, despite the fact that House rules prohibit Member caucuses from having their own real estate in the Capitol complex.

Under House rules established by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995, a Congressional caucus — officially known as a Congressional Member Organization — “may not be assigned separate office space.”

Nevertheless, the RSC occupies a tiny office on the first floor of the Cannon Building with a handful of desks crammed inside.

The office is actually controlled by Boehner, and a Republican staffer said it does not violate House rules because the room is not assigned to the RSC, even though it is used by the RSC staff. Boehner has provided the room to Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), the chairman of the RSC.

Price spokesman Ryan Murphy said in an e-mail, “The office is used by Representative Price as space for staff. We appreciate the additional resources that allow Representative Price to be an effective legislator in the House of Representatives and promote conservative solutions to put our nation on a more prosperous course.”

But the office is three floors below Price’s suite and is unmarked, other than the number on the door: G-1. The office is next door to Cannon 132, the suite occupied by freshman Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), and a visitor knocking on doors in the corridor asking for “the Republican Study Committee office” is directed to G-1.

Asked how the office arrangement complies with House rules, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “Leader Boehner makes space available to a handful of Members. Rep. Price is one of those Members.”

The RSC was one of the two dozen “legislative service organizations” kicked out of the Congressional office buildings by Gingrich in 1995 — it had occupied a suite on the fourth floor of Cannon, down the hall from Price’s current office — along with the Democratic Study Group, which was widely viewed as a primary target of the rules change.

Gingrich and the Republican leadership argued that the caucuses had become wasteful entities that used taxpayer money to serve special interests. The Republicans said that eliminating the caucuses would “abolish 96 staff jobs and free 16 House offices for other uses,” according to a December 1994 New York Times story.

In a January 1995 response to President Bill Clinton’s weekly radio address, freshman Rep. James Longley (R-Maine) said doing away with the caucuses would save $5 million a year. Noting that the incoming Congress had also eliminated three full committees and several subcommittees, Longley said, “With all these cuts, we should have plenty of extra office space.” Longley was defeated after one term in office.

The RSC was reconstituted as the “Conservative Action Team” in the mid-1990s, reverting to the Republican Study Committee in 2001. Its website describes the group as “the caucus of the House conservatives,” and it is registered as a Congressional Member Organization with the House Administration Committee.

Under the post-Gingrich rules, CMOs are allowed to use shared staff, but “no employees may be appointed in the name of a CMO” and the groups may not have office space. On its website, the RSC lists 10 staff members, eight of whom are paid as shared staff, according to the most recent available House records.

Other large caucuses, such as the Congressional Black Caucus, accommodate staff within the office suites of their chairs. The CBC’s employees work in the office of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on the fourth floor of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Roll Call was unable to locate any other caucus maintaining a remote office location for staff.