Rep. Richard Armey (R-Tex.), who used to spend a couple of nights a week in the House of Representatives gymnasium, is out in the cold. The House Gymnasium Committee all but pulled the sheets from under him when it recently ruled that members may no longer sleep in the gym overnight.
"The powerful chairman of the gym committee passed a policy that members could not sleep in the quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.," said Armey's spokesman, Ed Gillespie, yesterday. "Basically that means overnight . . ."
The ruling, Gillespie deduced, must mean Armey "can only sleep sw,-2 sk,2 there in the day, when the House is in session."
The rule was passed at the end of the last session by committee chairman Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.) and members William H. Natcher (D-Ky.) and John T. Myers (R-Ind.). Armey, who received no formal notice, although a letter announcing the rule reportedly was sent, heard about the development from press reports two weeks ago, Gillespie said. To which Armey reportedly replied: "I'm not going to take this lying down."
Natcher was unavailable for comment yesterday and Boland was out of town, but Boland's press secretary, Michael Sheehy, said the ruling was made "in conjunction with the speaker of the House." Myers said only that "the letter speaks for itself."
The halls of power are abuzz with pillow talk of partisan motives. "Whether this is true or not is in question," said Gillespie, "but the prevailing theory is that the speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill is upset that Armey has received so much positive publicity" as a result of his round-the-clock office life style. "Armey is a conservative outspoken against O'Neill. Passing this policy would reduce that good publicity."
Lee Pendergast, spokeswoman for O'Neill, attempted to put the rumors to bed: "It's ridiculous to think the speaker would try to prevent Armey from getting publicity."
Besides, she pointed out, "Congressman Boland oversees the committee. He evidently made the recommendation."
The policy, said Sheehy, "was directed at no particular member."
The reported letter could not be obtained from any of the three House Gymnasium Committee members' offices yesterday. Armey's office claimed never to have received a copy. A staffer answering the telephone at the House gymnasium said there was a large notice posted: " 'No More Sleeping in the Gym.' Just a piece of paper with typewriting on it -- that's it."
But Armey won't lose any sleep over the ruling. He said he'll simply bed down on the sofa in his office, like Rep. Bob Whittaker (R-Kan.), two floors below in the Cannon office building. Armey only spends Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the Capitol anyway, said Gillespie. The rest of the week he spends in Texas with his wife and five children.
"And," said Gillespie, "we do have other priorities."