WASHINGTON -- Republicans in Congress say they're so serious about cutting the federal budget that they're trying to do something they've never done before -- sell one of their own buildings.
They don't have a buyer. They aren't going to make much money. But when it comes to the "Contract with America" and Republican zeal for spending cuts, it's the thought that counts.
"It's a drop in the bucket when you look at a $1.5 trillion budget," said Rep. Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican. "But all our constituents would say the nickels and dimes add up."
The lucky salesman-in-waiting is Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland, chairman of the House Public Buildings and Economic Development subcommittee.
Mr. Gilchrest held a hearing yesterday on the building, known as the House Annex, home to the House day-care center and the offices of the Architect of the Capitol. It is unclear where the current tenants would move or what would happen to the building if it's sold.
"There is no secret plan to do anything special with this building," Mr. Gilchrest said at the hearing. "There is an honest effort to sell the structure."
Not to mention make money. But profits from the sale will be practically nullified by relocation costs, according to government appraisers, leaving Congress with a profit of between $185,000 and $485,000.
Mr. Gilchrest said the sale would save an additional $300,000 per year in maintenance and security costs and that the government appraisers overestimated relocation expenses.
Democratic critics found the proposal pointless.
"This insignificant building pales in comparison with the proposals on the floor as we speak," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic nonvoting delegate for the District of Columbia, referring to the vote on the GOP proposal to cut federal spending by nearly $1 trillion over seven years.
Mr. Gilchrest had his doubts about taking on the job of selling the building, but his concerns were eased once he toured the Annex, valued at $2.35 million by General Services Administration (GSA) appraisers.
"When I saw the poor condition of the building, I felt a lot better about it," said Mr. Gilchrest, who said he was encouraged to look into a possible sale by the House leadership.
The two-story, red brick building, five blocks from the Capitol, consists of 23,000 square feet on a 38,000-square-foot triangular piece of land. At 501 First St. S.E., it is only a few blocks from a crime-ridden neighborhood and abuts a local park.
Mr. Gilchrest seized on the location, safety concerns and poor condition of the structure as reasons the day care center -- which caters to 52 children of House staff members and is the chief concern of Republicans and Democrats alike -- should be moved.
"It's damp, it's dark, it's dilapidated," Mr. Gilchrest said of the building, constructed in the 1940s as a dormitory for nurses. "It isn't a good place for a day care center.
"I think we can accommodate them in a better space," he said. "I want all the parties to know that our No. 1 priority is to ensure the safety and security of the children in that program."
Congress has never sold one of its buildings. Government buildings are normally sold by the GSA. But the Republicans are intent on reducing the size of government and say that selling off their own property is a demonstration of good faith.
No sale is imminent. Congress must authorize a sale with legislation, unless it decides to let the GSA do it.