Friday, January 15, 2010

Secret Senate Digs Proliferate

By Laurie Kellman

Shhhhhhh. The perks of Senate membership just got sweeter.

For the first time, all 100 members of the chamber will have their own cloistered hideaways in the U.S. Capitol, traditionally a coveted mark of seniority and clout that lowly freshmen could only dream about.

This year, even junior senators will get their own private, unmarked offices that are a convenient few steps from the Senate chamber.

The addition of a dozen or so newly renovated rooms in the bowels of the Capitol represents a cultural shift in the custom-bound institution, made possible by moving a Capitol Police facility from the building's basement into the new, $621 million Capitol Visitor Center. The vacated space inside the Capitol's West Front made room for even shunned members of the Senate — Illinois Democrat Roland Burris, for example — and freshmen minority Republicans to move in.

While both parties make claims and counterclaims about openness in government, some things never change. The first rule of Senate hideaways: Only senators talk about them. And then, selectively and only about their own.

The only ways to know who occupies which office are to be invited in, witness a senator entering or exiting, or see a home-state newspaper lying outside the door in the morning. The hush-hush tradition creates sanctuaries for legislative work and meetings, as well as less official business — maybe even a nap.

Hideaways occupy ancient nooks on all four floors of the historic building and are institutions within an institution and one of the last vestiges of nonpartisanship in an increasingly divided chamber. The most senior senators get first dibs on the best quarters, regardless of party.

They bear room numbers but no names. Some are hidden in plain sight, along corridors used by thousands of unknowing tourists. The portals to others hide beyond massive statues. Still others are crammed in the spaces around rotundas, or at the ends of hallways with multiple sets of stairs. Many can't be found without a guide.

Those occupied by such senior senators as Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., tend to be grand affairs, with bathrooms, fireplaces, chandeliers and million-dollar views of the Washington and Lincoln Memorials or the Supreme Court.

Read the rest of the article here.

1 comment:

  1. The hush-hush tradition creates sanctuaries for legislative work and meetings, as well as less official business — maybe even a nap

    Ha! "Napping," is that the hot euphemism for that act nowadays?