All that time in the House does Coble and other veterans little good when it comes to their end-of-Congress work space. As newcomers move in and up-and-comers claim new offices, the outgoing members have been consigned to a single room in the basement of the Rayburn House Office building. (Senators are a bit more fortunate and get to keep their offices to the end.)
Dozens of legislative titans are spending their last days in office in tiny gray portable cubicles, each with a single swivel chair and a folding chair for a staffer. The row of cubicles stretches on and on down the narrow room, which is only a bit larger than the office House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will inhabit by herself next term. "It's very limited and very cramped," Coble said, "but I understand they have new folks coming in." Rep. Jim Moran called the new digs "a rude awakening."
Moran had his own tale of office woe. "I was over in Buck McKeon's office when they were pulling out the wires to his computer and his phone," he said. "I was objecting—'Gosh, this is a guy who's served for 38 years. He's chairman of the Armed Service Committee. Can't you give him a little slack?' And the guy says, 'Don't worry, Congressman, we just did the same thing in your office.' "
A few have avoided such office-drone ignominy. Outgoing committee chairs, like House Intelligence head Mike Rogers and McKeon, still have their committee spaces from which to work. And Rep. Spencer Bachus said he has an office annex in Rayburn that Speaker John Boehner has allowed him to retain through the end of his term.
Bachus faced an unusual packing challenge. The massive model train collection that covered the walls of his office has been meticulously stored, with each train placed into its original box. Most of the trains will be sent to the University of Alabama, where they will be displayed alongside the doll collection of Mary Harmon Bryant, the wife of legendary football coach Bear Bryant. Like most members, Bachus is also packing up years worth of papers, which he plans to donate to Auburn University (he has degrees from both Alabama schools, so each gets a share of his legacy).
For Levin, who's been in the Senate for 36 years, the papers pose a monumental challenge. "You name it—everything from old letters to responses to reports to drafts," he said. "We've got hundreds of boxes that are going to archives."
After the papers are boxed, many office artifacts will be coming home with the members—though maybe not for long. "My wife has given me a month to get rid of half of it," Bachus said. Moran said his office paraphernalia is currently occupying a storage unit—but acknowledged his nearby Northern Virginia district means he won't have to transport it far.
For those, like Levin and Coble, who are moving home full-time, they face the added challenge of moving out and selling their Washington residences as well. Coble said he hopes to close on his home this week, while Levin estimated it would take months just to get his cleared out. "My wife doesn't think it will, but I do," he said.