June 1, 2012
Woody Allen once famously said that, “90 percent of life is just showing up.” Our members of Congress apparently aren’t big believers in this philosophy. Among the many reasons for Congressional gridlock is the fact that they’re rarely in session together, if at all. This past May offered a representative example as the House and Senate were only in session at the same time during nine out of 22 available work days. Congressional absenteeism is hardly a new problem. In the last 10 years, the House averaged only 135 days in session per calendar year, while the Senate averaged 160. But in recent years, it has reached tragicomic proportions, as some members don’t even show up when Congress is in session.
Members of Congress now routinely fly home to their districts on Thursday nights to meet with constituents or attend fundraisers, and they often don't return until the following Tuesday. That often leaves only a few days a week available for actual legislating. As former Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle once said, “When we scheduled votes, the only day where we could be absolutely certain we had all one hundred senators there was Wednesday afternoon.”
This is simply unacceptable. America has big problems to solve, and we won't have much hope of solving them if we effectively have a part-time legislature. Thankfully, members of Congress from both parties are starting to speak up.
Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted how hard it was to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, in part because, “The House of Representatives is basically not in session this month. They're under their very difficult schedule, working two weeks on and one week off, and then sometimes longer than that, so I don't know when they're gonna be here.”
And last year, freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) wrote a letter to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va), asking how Congress could act on vital issues when, “among other things, we start off being in session only ten days the entire month of January?”
Fortunately, there is a solution to Sen. Reid’s and Rep. West’s frustration. They can embrace the “Make Members Come to Work” proposal in No Labels’ twelve point Make Congress Work! action plan. Our proposal has three simple elements.
One: Most Americans put in a five-day workweek. So should Congress.
Two: Congress should spend three weeks in DC, and one week in their home state or district in any given month. This would give them more focused time to legislate. And instead of quick in-and- out trips home for fundraisers or hastily scheduled events, members would have a full week available for working at home with constituents.
Three: Because no law can pass unless it gets through both the House and Senate, the leaders of both chambers should work to ensure their members are in Washington during the same weeks.
This isn’t a lot to ask of our representatives. Ensuring that members of Congress spend more time legislating and less time fundraising should be a shared goal of citizens across the political spectrum. Congress has a job to do. It's time for them to do it.