Jan. 6, 2008— -- It's a recession version of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Rep. Jason Chaffetz, representing Utah's 3rd congressional district, promises to vote like a fiscal conservative and to live like one.
Instead of renting a Washington, D.C., apartment, the Utah Republican plans to live in his Capitol Hill office to save money, while his family stays in their home in Alpine, Utah.
"You work hard into the night and then the last thing I want to do is spend $1,500 a month on a place I don't intend to be and a place I just plan to sleep at," said the freshman congressman.
Chaffetz arrived in Washington this week, with his son Max, who helped unpack the car. Among his possessions is a cot, wrapped in a trash bag and duct tape, which Chaffetz plans to set up in his office. Total cost: $45.
"I'm trying to live the example that it doesn't take big dollars in order to get where we want to go," Chaffetz said. "I can save my family $1,500 a month by sleeping on a cot in my office as opposed to getting a fancy place that's maybe a little bit more comfortable."
Having an office double as his residence has a few perks. The commute is short and the rent is cheap -- free to be exact. But the quarters in his office in the Longworth building are tight.
"I've got about an inch-and-a-half, two inches on that side of the cot," he said. "I can sleep in a closet. I don't care."
Sleeping and working in the same place is nothing new for Chaffetz. His home doubled as his campaign office, but he still managed to knocked out the six-term incumbent, Rep. Chris Cannon, despite being outspent 8 to 1. His volunteers put up more than 8,000 yard signs.
"It wasn't just about big dollars and big name ID," Chaffetz said. "This dream came about because we worked out of our basement. We had no paid staff. We had all volunteers. We refused to go into debt. We were outspent by $600,000."
40 Members of Congress Regularly Sleep in Offices
But working out of your home is one thing; living in your office is quite another.
"I don't want it to smell like he's living in his office," said Chaffetz's wife, Julie. "Everyone knows what I'm talking about, you know, we don't want that to happen. I may have to pack some air sanitizers or something in his bag."
At least Chaffetz will have access to a shower -- it is two flights down in the basement.
"It's not the country club everyone thinks, but it'll work," Chaffetz said.
Another drawback: there's no real closet. He's hanging suits in his hallway, which also serves as a kitchen.
It may seem like a strange way to live, but Chaffetz isn't the only one. At least 40 members of Congress regularly sleep in their congressional offices.
Living in the office not only saves money, it also helps make a political point.
"We're going through the same thing the rest of American families are going through," Chaffetz said. "I get a very handsome salary as a U.S. congressman, but I still have a wife and three kids. I have a mortgage and an auto payment I need to make."