October 9, 2013

Congressional Gym Deemed Essential During Shutdown.

Calvin Coolidge and Speaker of the House Frederick Gillett exercise in the Congressional Gym, 1923.

The government shutdown is affecting many people—from Head Start programs (and children), the National Parks (and employees, joggers and bikers), the EPA and WIC—just to name a few. 

Yet the Congressional Gym has been deemed essential.

Judd Legum’s article on ThinkProgress became viral after he wrote:

“A House aide confirmed to ThinkProgress that the House member’s gym is open. The House gym features a swimming pool, basketball courts, paddleball courts, a sauna, a steam room and flat screen TVs. While towel service is unavailable, taxpayers remain on the hook for cleaning and maintenance, which has been performed daily throughout the shutdown. There are also costs associated with the power required to heat the pools and keep the lights on.”

ABC news reported more than two years ago that while the gym is taxpayer funded, costs of operation remain a secret.

“The House and Senate gymnasiums are taxpayer-subsidized perks shrouded in secrecy. The public and press are not allowed inside to even see what they look like and their costs are buried in various budgets.

The gyms are kept out of plain sight. There are no signs outside the doors and the only way to get inside is for members to get buzzed in.

Although ABC News was not allowed inside, those who have been admitted said they’re both equipped with flat-screen TVs, workout machines and a swimming pool.

The costs for the gyms are well in excess of the $20 a month House members pay and the $40 a month senators are charged, congressional sources told ABC News. The membership fees are placed in an Architect of the Capitol revolving fund that covers equipment replacement or purchases.” 

And while surely few are suggesting that members of Congress should have no perks or benefits, this particular shutdown “essential” has many outraged and confused many as to how this could possibly have been approved.

Legum’s article reported that:

“The decision was made by the Architect of the Capital. According to a House aide, the decision of the Architect of the Capitol was done with the direct involvement of Speaker Boehner’s office, however. In a phone call, a spokesman for Speaker Boehner, Michael Steel, would not answer direct questions about whether Speaker Boehner’s office recommended the decision or had any communications with the Architect of the Capitol on the matter.”

Interestingly, the gym for the Congressional staff has been closed.

“According to the aide, the decision to keep the gym open — even while other critical government services were shelved — while made by the Architect of the Capitol, but was done with the direct involvement Speaker Boehner’s office. Meanwhile, the staff gym available to Congressional staff has been closed.

It appears that the members gym in the Senate remains open on similar terms. Yesterday, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) complained to a reporter from the Omaha World-Herald that the members gym was getting ‘rank.'” 

Still, there are some Congressional benefits that have been temporarily withheld. (Remember what I wrote earlier about not believing everything you read.) 

Unfortunately, though, the truth in this story gets filed under “you can’t make this shit up.”

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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