Congress is Working Hard, But Also Hardly Working

By No Labels
March 7, 2018 | Blog

How many days a year do you work? For most Americans, the answer is about 237: 365 days a year, minus weekends, federal holidays and two weeks of vacation. Maybe there are a few sick days, too.

For Congress, the answer is very different, more like 190 for the House and 195 for the Senate. Those are the number of legislative days that Congress worked last year, the days that they were in Washington, in session and doing the public’s business, according to Congress.gov. And those figures are actually up over previous years.

Spending only half the year legislating would be fine, if it worked. But by most counts, Congress is not working. The federal budget deficit is increasing. Major issues like immigration, border security and gun safety—all with broad public support for reform—are unaddressed. Two-party cooperation is exceedingly rare. Here at No Labels, we think it’s time to change the way Washington works from the inside.

Inside congressional productivity

Of course, the number of days that the chambers are in session is just an indicator. Congress does not have the rest of the time off—far from it. Most members of Congress work extremely hard.

When they are in Washington, they pull long hours, with some even sleeping in their offices. When back in the district, they are working to help constituents. They are also burdened by huge fundraising requirements. And, they must travel a great deal, spread their lives between DC and their home district, and spend time away from family.

Oddly enough, the number of legislative days last year was the most each chamber has held since 1997. The average during that period was 140 a year in the House and 161 a year in the Senate.

But the truth remains that, for all that work, there is far less bipartisan cooperation than there has been in previous years, and Congress remains unable to pass bills—even a timely budget—in the face of obvious need.

New House, new rules

Congress could get a lot more done if it operated differently. Specifically, the rules that govern the House could be changed to encourage more bipartisan cooperation and productivity.

For example, the Speaker is now selected by a simple majority of House members (218 of 435), which generally means that the majority controls the process. Congressional rules should be changed to require 60 percent of House members to select a Speaker (261 of 435), which would compel the man or woman who wants the job to solicit support from lawmakers in both parties.

That would dramatically change how the House is run and how legislation is passed, all but requiring two-party cooperation to get things done. A recent poll showed this idea has broad public support. No Labels will encourage lawmakers in both parties to support this change and others that can make the House more bipartisan and more productive. Whatever the outcome of November’s election, we’ll have a new House next year. New rules would allow it to work far harder.

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