Just the Facts

Congress Should Work in Washington Five Days a Week

By No Labels
April 10, 2018 | Blog

Here’s something that may or may not surprise you: Congress does not work five days a week, at least not legislating in Washington. Statistically, it is more like three days a week.


Last year, the House spent 190 days working in Washington and the Senate spent 195, according to Congress.gov. That’s more than previous years, but it means that Congress is in Washington working on legislation only about half the year. The rest of the time is spent working in their districts, campaigning, fundraising or on breaks.


In a world in which remote work is common, this might be fine—if it got the job done. But thus far, it has not. Issues like border security, immigration and gun safety—all of which have broad public support—have not been addressed. The federal budget is an ongoing struggle. And the latest polls show that more than 7 out of 10 Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.


The 5-day work week


Congress should consider spending three weeks in Washington each month, working five days a week, and then a full week back home. This would increase the amount of time that lawmakers have to interact with one another and decrease the amount of time spent traveling to and from Washington.


The truth is that life in Congress is hard. In their states and districts, lawmakers must address constituent needs. In Washington, they work long hours meeting in committee, meeting with interest groups, meeting in caucuses and meeting privately with each other, all under a very compressed timeline. They also spend hundreds of hours in travel each year. Add in campaigning and the intense pressure to raise money, and the demand becomes dizzying.


Working more steadily in Washington could inject some breathing room into that schedule. Yes, it might be tougher on those with family in the district or state (many do not move their family to Washington). But every lawmaker knew that tension was part of the job when they got elected. The certainty of staying in one place for three weeks at a time could allow lawmakers more time to focus on vital issues that must be addressed.


Break the rules


Congress is failing in the face of demonstrable need. Immigration policy needs repair. Borders need tighter security. American schools must be made safe. The budget needs to be set on time. For this to happen, lawmakers will have to work across the aisle. It is the only way. Congress must change how it does business to promote more bipartisan cooperation.


The new House that is sworn in after November’s election should conduct a full review of the rules and norms that govern the chamber, making changes to increase cooperation and productivity. How lawmakers manage their time is a very good place to start. Shifting the work schedule to favor stable and productive time in Washington could have serious impact.

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