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Government closed, but Capitol gyms remain open

Published October 9, 2013 6:47 pm

Congressional gym • There's no staff, but lawmakers pay a fee and have keys to get in.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • The government may be closed, but members of Congress — the ones who let the country's budget lapse — can still stop by the House and Senate gyms to break a sweat or take a shower.

While many government services nationwide are curtailed in the shutdown, the two Capitol gyms are continuing to run, albeit without any staff to clean up after workouts or to wash towels.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz is one of a dozen members who sleep in their offices and use the House gym every morning. The Utah Republican says the gym should stay open because it doesn't take any federal employees to keep the lights on.

"Turning on the water or riding a stationary bike does not necessitate personnel," Chaffetz said Wednesday, noting he's reusing a towel, "which is not the end of the world."

"There are 103,000 things more important than this issue," he added.

But some House Democrats say keeping the gym open is a bad symbol for an already unpopular Congress, suggesting members' interests are more important than the hardships imposed on the rest of the country because of the government closure. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., introduced legislation this week to force the Architect of the Capitol to lock the gyms until the shutdown ends. "Members of Congress should not enjoy access to their exclusive gym and spa while Capitol Police go without pay, children are being turned away from Head Start and veterans are left wondering if their benefits will come in the mail on November 1," Foster said in a statement. "If veterans' benefits processing, food assistance for women and children and medical research are not 'essential' then the sauna, steam room and gym for members of Congress certainly are not."

House and Senate members pay a monthly fee to use the members-only gyms on the respective sides of the Capitol complex.

Other Capitol services — such as the Senate buffet, barbershops and gyms for staffers — are closed during the shutdown.