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Commentary: A fitful night's sleep on a cot in the Capitol

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  • Jason Chaffetz: I decided to sleep in my House office to save money
  • He says his freshman year is starting off well as he bonds with colleagues
  • Chaffetz: We need to reduce spending, so I voted against stimulus bill
  • He says worst part of the job is being separated from his family in Utah
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By Jason Chaffetz
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, represents the Third District of Utah in Congress and is writing a regular series of reports for on his freshman year. For his bio, read here. For a Democratic freshman's view, read here.

Jason Chaffetz says he's saving money by sleeping on a cot in his office, but there are downsides.

Jason Chaffetz says he's saving money by sleeping on a cot in his office, but there are downsides.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- I do something a bit different than most members of Congress. I sleep in my office on a cot. A few months ago, I was speaking with a current member of Congress and he said he slept in his office. Awesome!

We are paid well, but the cost of caring for two households and supporting a family of five is high. I thought this would be a great way to save $1,500 per month. Besides, I work late into the night and usually arise about 5:30 a.m. No need to waste time commuting and spending money on a place where I don't intend to be spending much time. I came here to work, not sleep. Video Watch video of Jason Chaffetz' life in Congress »

So I bought a cot at Smiths grocery store and carried it on a plane to Washington. I sleep in the closet by the door to the outside hall. The cot itself is fairly comfy. Best thing is there is no bar in the middle, so my back is doing quite well.

The only downside is what is happening outside. The cleaning crew obviously works throughout the night. They do a great job, but they have a Zamboni-like machine (the kind you see on ice rinks) that cleans the hallways. It has a horn and they use it! It makes an obnoxious beeping sound that you hear on trucks that are backing up, and it definitely keeps me up at night.

At 12:52 a.m. during the first week, the "Capitol Early Warning System" was tested.

It works!

Even though I sleep in my office, I do shower. The House has a gym. I pay $240 to use the facilities. Typically I head down first thing in the morning to wash up and work out in the evening.

I thought it would be like a nice golf club or certainly as "lavish" as a Gold's Gym. Not so much. It's nice, but it's more like a high school gym with the small narrow lockers from the 1950s.

I locker next to Jose Serrano (D-New York). On the political spectrum we are probably as far apart as possible. Yet, just in our gym clothes we get along great. He's a nice guy and he offered a wealth of perspective and suggestions to a freshman.

Aside from the routine details of settling in, the first weeks of my term have been filled with surreal moments. Never did I think I would be seated just yards away from one of the most historic presidential inaugurations in the history of our country.

To watch firsthand as President Bush peacefully transitioned the presidency to Barack Obama was a surreal and inspiring moment. My most vivid memory of the moment was watching the two men embrace after the oath of office (the first one). It's part of what makes this country so strong and so marvelous.

In many ways, my own election reflected the miracle of this country. With no paid staff, no polling, no campaign office, no free meals for potential voters and no debt, I took on a 12-year Republican incumbent and won by a 20 percent margin (I ate one of our own) despite being outspent by $600,000 through the primary election.

On January 6, 2009, I, too, raised my right hand and was administered the oath of office. With my 15-year old son, Max, by my side, tears flowed down my face. The emotion of the moment was overwhelming. The history of the House of Representatives, my desire to be the very best representative I can possibly be, the massive amount of people counting on us to do what is right, and the opportunity to do good all hit me at once.

Over the past several weeks, the 22 Republican freshmen have been building our friendships.

Our bond is tight, we are all working hard and we are having fun, too. This week, House Republicans met with President Obama and debated the stimulus bill. I voted against it. Our national debt has increased an average of $2.8 billion per day since January 2007. We must cut spending, not increase spending, for the long-term health of our economy.

One day I went up to see my colleague Chris Lee's (R-New York) office. He's on the seventh floor of the Longworth Building and he had me crawl through the window in his office out to the balcony for a wonderful view of the Capitol. We talked about putting a barbecue out there in the summer and having the Republican freshman class over for some burgers.

Being a member of Congress is nothing short of amazing, but the worst part is not being able to go home to my family at night. I miss my wife, Julie, and our kids, Max, Ellis, and Kate. They are in Utah and I am here in Washington four nights per week.


It is an honor to serve. Now that we are settling in, the real work has begun. The noise in the hallway is the least of my problems. I've got my cot, now let's figure out how to get our economy back on track!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jason Chaffetz.

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