Lazy Lawmakers and Peace for the Middle East

20 03 2006

The “Do-Nothing” Congress is back. According to an article in the USA Today, the House of Representatives has been in session for 19 days through Friday. Based on their current schedule, the House will be in session for 97 days this year. However, in the first two months of this year, House members have logged a mere 47 hours in the Capitol. Most Americans work 47 hours in a week.If this pace keeps up, most of the people in the House will garner themselves a hefty $200 an hour in compensation for this year. Add in the kickbacks, lobbyist paid dinners, free yachts, and vacations and you have yourself one sweet deal.

Obviously, the time lawmakers spend in the Capitol is not the only time they are working. There are committee and subcommittee meetings to attend, but Norman Orstein has noted that these have increased by 50% over the past years. What exactly are the members of Congress doing?

Some who are in favor of a smaller government are pleased that lawmakers are spending less time legislating and more time flying home to their districts and meeting with lobbyists. This type of attitude is quite silly. The taxpayers are paying someone to be a full time employee and they are attempting to cram all their work into 2 1/2 days so they can go home. Would your boss allow you to do this? Unfortunately, these people are not cutting your lawn. The legislation that they pass changes the country and impacts the world. Not having Congress in the Capitol means that Congressional leadership can manipulate the voting times and committee meetings. They could be pushing all sorts of things to the floor without any sort of oversight. You cannot possibly cram the business of this country into 71 days allotted for voting this year on Capitol Hill, with 26 more days having no votes before 6:30 PM. I’m sure that’s in case lunch goes long.

This country has major problems: Social Security, education reform, out of control debt, a war in Iraq, Medicare, and Homeland Security. We have elected people to deal with these issues and they have not showed up to work. When a matter arises, say the Dubai ports deal, people are thrown into a panic and are suddenly lost without direction because they haven’t been on Capitol Hill to actually find out what is going on. Each of these representatives is then at the mercy of their staffers and interns who have hopefully done their homework and briefed them on what is happening on the floor.

I don’t think it matters what party is in control. Over the past years, I really don’t see how it has made a difference who controls Congress. Neither party is working for the people, because neither party is in Washington.

Today, President Bush told the world that he would use military force to protect Israel from Iran. You can be sure that if it comes to that, members of Congress will be squawking that they had no say in the matter and that Bush is doing what ever he pleases. Bush, though accused of being on vacation more than any other President, is still on the job whether in Crawford or Washington and that is more than can be said for Congress. How can lawmakers actually say they care about peace for the Middle East if they aren’t going to work for it? How can they even claim to be working on the Patriot Act, Social Security Reform, or anything else that they harp about if they aren’t in Washington? Sharon Stone just went to the Middle East on a highly publicized trip. She’s doing more for peace than my Congressman.

It seems that every election cycle, one party accuses the other party of not doing what they said they were going to do and not getting anything done. I can’t see how anyone can get anything done if they’re not at work. A sure formula for success would be to show up and get something done instead of showing up and going home.

It can be best summed up by Norman J. Ornstein, one more eloquent than myself:

A part-time Congress in a country with a $13 trillion economy and federal budget near $3 trillion, in a globalized, technologically sophisticated world, is itself a danger to the checks and balances built into American democracy, and to high-quality, careful policymaking and oversight. It’s not too much to ask Congress to commit to spending at least half the year — 26 weeks — working full-time, five days a week, thus providing at least a measure of the deliberation and attention to detail that are so lacking now.

What do you think?


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2 responses

21 03 2006
Nathan Peretic

I’m thrilled they are only working 2.5 days per week. The total salary of all members of congress is pennies compared to the pork-loaded bills they pass. If fewer hours worked equals fewer fat bills, I’ll be one happy constituent. (Alternatively, if they can still produce the same amount of wasted money in half the time, I’d rather they sit and sweat in D.C. than not.)

21 03 2006
Neil

The problem with your analysis is that you don’t realize what constitutes “work” for a member of Congress or realize what an average work day entails. A few points:

-You only count time in session as work, but fail to count the numerous hours spent in the district working, meeting with constituents, meeting with lobbyists, etc. When Congress is not in session, almost every member of Congress works out of their district, which often entails 8 a.m. breakfasts, pre-lunch meetings at the office, lunch meetings somewhere in the district, post-lunch meetings in the office, and then banquets. Speaking from personal experience, my father when he’s in the district, more often than not, leaves the house around 7 a.m. and gets back after 8 p.m.

To summarize, the job of a representative is multi-faceted, and only one facet of that is their time directly legislating (you don’t count the time they spend indirectly legislating – meeting with experts, formulating bills, etc.). Remember, they are members of the house of representatives – and they spend quite a lot of time meeting with the people they represent.

-You turn your nose up at days where Congress only goes into session at 6:30. These days are usually Mondays or Tuesdays, when members are flying back from their districts (often after having met with their constituents in the mornings and early afternoons), and, quite often, they will stay in session until past 11.

-Speaking of late nights, you don’t mention (nor does the article) the numerous nights that Congress spends in session past midnight, often after having gone in session early in the morning.

And the reason for this… Congress tries to spend as few hours in session as possible, so they can spend as many hours as possible representing their constituents and getting input on legislation. For weeks when Congress is trying to move through a decent amount of legislation, they’ll often go into session aroudn 10 a.m., continue until 2 or 3 a.m., and come back at 9 or 10 a.m. the next morning – and do that for an entire week. Of course, just because Congress doesn’t go into session until 10 a.m. doesn’t mean that members aren’t there. In fact, they probably are, meeting with people from 8 a.m. on.

-Also, you seem to have a misconception about representatives getting thrown into a tizzy by “recent” developments like the Dubai deal. In a case like this, members surely do rely on their staffers to inform them about what’s going on, but this is no different from normal. A member will once in a while research legislation on his own, but that is a rarity. One of the jobs of staffers is to do in depth research and then present that research to the member in some type of digested or condensed form. Also, members are not left in the dark if they’re not in D.C. The job of the Majority/Minority Leaders is to keep members informed, and they do this through a variety of methods including emails, faxes, and party-wide conference calls which often have 100+ members in on the call.

-Finally, if you look at Congress historically, the trend by far is a drastic increase in the amount of time in session. Many state governments spend a month or two out of the entire year in session, and Congress used to be like that too. Now, because of the airplane and expedited travel, they fly back and forth betwen their districts and Congress and stay in session for much longer (it would not be unusual for my dad, for instance, to fly from IL to DC on Sunday, be in session on Mon-Tue, fly to IL on Wed, fly back to DC early Thu morning, be in session Thu, fly back to IL on Fri and stay thru Sunday. This is how members work, splitting their time between their two primary zones of occupation: DC and home).

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