Cost of Congressional Gyms Kept Secret

The fitness facilities are taxpayer-subsidized perks shrouded in secrecy.

ByABC News
June 16, 2011, 3:59 PM

June 16, 2011 -- 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.

Staffers who work at the House gym and maintain it are paid out of the House office buildings appropriations, while the power to heat the pools and keep the lights on is paid for from the power plant account as part of the Capitol complex.

"If Congress thought this was on the up and up and this was perfectly legitimate, than they should be willing to open their books and show the constituents how they are spending their money," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the non-partisan organization, Taxpayers for Common Sense.

House representatives and senators justify the perk by saying important work gets done there.

In March 2010, Rep. Eric Massa questioned the locker room etiquette of then-White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

"I'm sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me because I wasn't going to vote for the president's budget," said Massa.

Vice President Joe Biden works out at the Senate's members-only gym, where he talks shop with his former colleagues in the Senate.

"You get the feeling like they just don't get what's going on out there in the real world when they have all these perks at their fingertips," Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, told ABC News. "The gyms and the hair care and all the parking facilities that they have ... they're really living a different life than the average American."

A "different life" that is unlikely ever to have a public price tag, as Congress has generally fought efforts at simplification and transparency.

One recent exception, in 2009, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi successfully merged quarterly public reports of all receipts and expenditures for Members, Committees, Leadership, Officers and Offices online to increase accountability.

But sources told ABC News they doubted a detailed budget for the Members-only gym would ever be released because there is no separate appropriation for the Wellness Center, and the expenses of its operations draw from various budgets.

The chairman of the House Government and Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also introduced a bill earlier this week that he says will increase transparency and digitally track federal spending.