Some U.S. House members are still using a private, members-only gym on Capitol Hill, even though employees are furloughed and tours are canceled amid the government shutdown.
Although the Committee on U.S. House Administration, which oversees the Capitol grounds, announced the private House Members Wellness Center would be closed because of the shutdown, the News4 I-Team confirmed the gym remains open. News4 I-Team cameras captured images of several U.S. House members walking in and out of the facility Tuesday afternoon.
The wellness center includes fitness equipment, an indoor pool and a basketball court. Access is strictly limited to members of Congress, photography is prohibited inside and gym staffers are furloughed.
U.S. House leadership, including spokespeople for the U.S. Speaker of the House and Architect of the Capitol, declined to answer questions as to why the gym remains open, despite public announcements it’d be closed.
Amid widespread furloughs, tour cancellations and public park closures, taxpayer watchdog groups say members should forgo using the gym.
“It is clear that while the website says that the gym is closed, members of Congress, specifically House members, are still enjoying these creature comforts,” said David Williams of the Virginia-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance. “No amount of secrecy will keep taxpayers from knowing the truth, the members only gym remains open while other parts of the government remain closed.”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who was seen walking through the private gym today, said, “People shouldn't worry if the Wellness Center is open. They should worry that the government is closed."
The House wellness center is located near a bank of elevators in a basement hallway of the Rayburn House Office Building. Members of the House are required to pay a monthly membership fee for usage.
UPDATE: Tuesday evening, Reps. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and Patrick E. Murphy (D-Fla.) sent an email with the subject "Tell Speaker Boehner: No Government, No Congressional Spa" to Democratic legislative directors reading:
Despite Speaker Boehner’s refusal to reopen the government by bringing a clean CR to the House floor, he believes Members of Congress should still receive Congressional Perks. He has deemed the Congressional spa used by Members of the House of Representatives to be “essential” during the shutdown. Not only are Members still able to access the taxpayer-funded gym, sauna and steam room while tens of thousands of federal employees remain furloughed, janitorial staff are still required to clean the gym and restock it with towels and other “essential items.”
That is why I am introducing the SPA Act (Shutdown Prioritization Act). This bill would prohibit the Architect of the Capitol from operating the Member gym during a government shutdown. It’s time to tell Speaker Boehner end the Congressional Perks and focus on getting the government up and running.