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December 6, 2006
Changing The Work Ethic

The Democrats scored a front-page hit today with Steny Hoyer's announcement that House members will work a full-time schedule while Congress is in session. The new Majority Leader has designed a schedule that will require members to work from Monday evening to Friday afternoon, a plan that has some members of both parties grumbling:

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who will become House majority leader and is writing the schedule for the next Congress, said members should expect longer hours than the brief week they have grown accustomed to.

"I have bad news for you," Hoyer told reporters. "Those trips you had planned in January, forget 'em. We will be working almost every day in January, starting with the 4th."

The reporters groaned. "I know, it's awful, isn't it?" Hoyer empathized.

For lawmakers, it is awful, compared with what they have come to expect. For much of this election year, the legislative week started late Tuesday and ended by Thursday afternoon -- and that was during the relatively few weeks the House wasn't in recess.

In this session, which began in 2005, Congress has worked a grand total of 103 days. That's roughly equivalent to working every Saturday over the same period, and it's lower than the so-called "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1948, as Lyndsey Layton points out in the front-page Washington Post article. That doesn't count some of the committee meetings that got scheduled on off days, but it hardly sounds like a challenging schedule for people who make $165,000 a year in salary, plus a special pension and exemption from Social Security taxes.

Some claim that the expanded schedule will place too much of a burden on members. Jack Kingston, normally a voice of common sense, claimed that the new schedule amounted to an assault on families. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says." He's upset because he won't get Thursday through Tuesday at home with his wife and kids, but hey, if I could get a one-day work week, I'd probably take it, too.

If Congress managed to get its work done in 103 days over two years, I would have less of a problem with the schedule they worked this year. However, they didn't produce much, not even the spending bills that is their primary responsibility. Once again, they will come in a rush at the end of the session, which means that they will get larded up with pork in order to buy off enough members to limit debate. It will pressure President Bush to accept them rather than apply vetoes and take his chances with the Democrats in the next session.

The schedule failed in its primary function, which was to act as an incumbency protection system. Roy Blunt alluded to this when he noted that the incoming freshmen will get a lot less time to establish themselves in their districts, allowing the GOP to compete better against then in 2008. Unfortunately, voters didn't care whether their Representative spent time in the district or not when they went to the midterm polls.

I don't think that Congress has to meet 250 days a year in order to succeed in its mission. In fact, a smaller schedule would be desirable if it meant that we had shrunk the reach of the federal government. The Republicans failed to do that during the time of their majority, however, which is one of the reasons why that time has come to an end. For the money and benefits these elected officials receive, they will find little sympathy from working stiffs for having to work one or two days every week during the periods when Congress is in session.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 6, 2006 6:12 AM

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» Those Were The Days When Working 103 Days Per Session Earned You $165,000 A Year! from Right Voices
Culture Shock on Capitol Hill: House to Work 5 Days a Week! A session equals 2 years, so that is basically like working every Saturday for 2 years, collecting $165,000 per year and a special pension and exemption from Social Security taxes! Rep. Ste... [Read More]

Tracked on December 6, 2006 10:06 AM


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