This business of short work-weeks started in 1995, under the orders of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Part of the campaign to promote Tea Partyish ideas (which really is what the Contract On America was, the first shot of the Tea Party) was the notion that candidates or congressmen who spent too much time in Washington became inherently corrupted. Prior to that, most congresspeople bought homes in the DC area. But starting with that session, they mostly sold their homes and rented apartments, often with several roommates (other representatives) to insulate them from the charge of having "gone native". In some places that charge can still be damaging---Pat Roberts almost lost his Kansas Senate seat this year because of it, and Richard Lugar of Indiana DID lose his seat a couple of cycles ago for that very reason. This is the same session of Congress where Gingrich forbade GOP members to fraternize with Democrats---the idea was to not just oppose Democrats and liberals, but also attempt to turn them into social pariahs. This has borne ugly fruit in the populace, with right-wingers (mainly) now refusing any kind of social contact with "liberals".
Democrats can use this issue now, as Peters does, for two reasons:
1) Cost-saving (which he mentioned) and
2) The natural resentment that ordinary people bear towards the cushy treatment Congresspeople have voted themselves. This is a potent weapon (see "Schock, Aaron").