For the past month or so, Rep. Eugene V. Atkinson (D-Pa.) a 51-year-old freshman member of Congress from Aliquippa, has literally made the House his home.
His day begins with the jingle of the alarm clock in his House office and ends as he beds down for the night on his vinyl couch, having taped to the door a piece of paper with "Please Do Not Distrib" written on it.
In between may be a shower in the House gym, breakfast in the House cafeteria, a late meal at one of the frequent lavish receptions around the city, a chat with the House security guard, and some late-night paperwork in his office as he relaxes in his blue jeans.
"It's been very comfortable," Atkinson says. "I brought down my bedding. It's been warm, secure, like a living room. I get my newspapers at the front door. When you get up in the morning, you're right on the job."
The House has a barbershop, a medical center, and a gym with shower facilities, he pointed out. His office has a closet for his suits, and bookcases and drawers for his pajamas and pillows and blankets. He takes his dirty laundry home on weekends.
A reporter had arranged for Atkinson to be photographed, sitting on his couch with his bedding beside him. But his press secretary called back to say that the congressman was "only joking" when he agreed to the photo.
Atkinson is a "very unpretentious person," she said, but there is a certain dignity that goes along with being a member of Congress. "Would you want someone to take a picture of you in your bedroom?" she asked.
All in all, Atkinson said, the House is a "friendly place." Reached alone in his office at 8 a.m., he said he was forced to make his couch his bed because he had a difficult time finding housing in Washington and he grew weary of $50-a-night hotel rooms.
"I had heard rumors (about the high cost of Washington housing)," Atkinson acknowledged. "It's everything they said it would be."
The Congressman said he originally wanted to rent a place, but when he found some bug-infested capitol hill apartments renting for $450 a month, he changed his mind.
Atkinson is buying a $142,000 Watergate condominium with one bedroom and a den, and hopes to move there within a few days. He is awaiting furniture for his new home.
"For that price back home," laughed Atkinson, who owns an insurance and securities firm and returns home on weekends to his family, "You would get acreage and a home and a pool and everything else."
A fellow member of Congress, Rep. Donald L. Ritter (R-PA.), knows the feeling well. Ritter has to resort to looking for a roommate to share his housing expenses.
"It was a shocking experience," Ritter, 38, said of his search for a nice place to rent on Capital Hill. He added that the "Little Apartments" he found were inferior to what he lived in as a college student.
You work hard all your career and you've done well, and you come from a nice home back home, and here you are a Congressman in Washington, D.C., about to go back to your undergraduate days," Ritter said.
Ritter ended up renting, for $675 a month, a "very cute" house with two tiny bedrooms, he said. He spent months looking for a roommate to share it, hoping for another congressman whose family wasn'T with him. He said he finally found a "friend of a friend" who agreed to share the house and the monthly payments.
"People who already live in Washington know about housing here," said Atkinson. "People from outside don't believe it until they experience it directly. If you come from Middle America, it's quite a shock."