David Yates Aug. 13, 2014, 10:01am

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – It was deemed essential during the October government shutdown, and became mildly famous in 2011 as the location spawning former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal.

Exclusive to U.S. legislators, the members-only House gym not only allows congressmen and women to sculpt their biceps, but perhaps hammer out compromises away from the prying eyes of staffers, wandering tourists and inquisitive journalists.

However, despite the health or otherwise benefits the gym may offer current legislators, a Democratic candidate running for Congress in Illinois 13th District sees the private wellness center as an unnecessary taxpayer expense and a point of reform.

During a July 25 radio interview on 1120 KMOX, former Madison County judge Ann Callis was asked if there was a particular policy she could point to that her presence in Washington will make a difference on. Her answer: Reform Congress by making U.S. elected officials pay for their own gym membership.

“I think an agenda of doing away with some of these perks,” Callis said. “For instance there is a gym in Congress that the Congressmen and women can go to for free and the taxpayers pay for that. I think they should pay for their own gym like everyone else.”

The idea of businesses and organizations investing in wellness programs is nothing new.

In a Dec. 29, 2002, St. Louis Business Journal article, Joanne McFadden wrote: “By creating a wellness or fitness center in the workplace, employers can lower health-care costs, absenteeism and stress at work while at the same time increasing productivity, morale and time utilization.

“It might sound like a costly proposition, but in actuality, health promotion can be relatively inexpensive, with benefits to employers and workers greatly outweighing costs, according to health and fitness professionals.”

While there may be no statistics supporting whether or not the taxpayer expense of a House gym reduces the cost of their taxpayer-funded health care, it’s evident some members of Congress believe in the merits of workplace wellness programs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, small businesses that establish wellness programs are eligible for government grants.

When asked about her stance on Obamacare during her radio interview, Callis said that although the rollout of the act was abysmal, it’s an issue in need of data collection and perhaps adjustment, but not replacement.

“I don’t think we should replace the whole thing and replace it with what?” said Callis. “I know Republicans say ‘Just get rid of ACA’ … but replace it with what? So, this is an issue that I talked to many many people in our district and I think it’s unfolding now.”

Callis’ campaign has not responded for requests for comment.

Callis stepped down from a 19-year career on the bench last year to make a bid for the 13th Congressional District. She will face U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican, in the general election.

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com

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