Friday, October 28, 2011

Republican Congresses Seem to Find Actually Working Too "Taxing"

Yuk yuk yuk I'm so punny.

Anyway, I became curious today about the working habits of the members of Congress, the people who are ostensibly my bosses. I was inspired by this graphic, which compares how much the members of Congress work for their $175k/year salaries with the working year of the average American:

Looks like it's nice to be a Representative - the Republicans in the House set themselves a pretty ... um ... leisurely work schedule, shall we say.

However, Daily Kos is not exactly an impartial source of information, so I went back in history to see what the numbers were, from the Democrats in the early 90s through twelve years of Republican rule in the house, back to the Dems, and then today:

(A note about the data: the numbers from the 112th Congress from Daily Kos and in my table exclude a number of days in which Congress was technically in session during this past summer but did absolutely nothing - a legislative gimmick designed to prevent Obama from making any recess appointments. There may have been similar gimmicks in previous Congresses, but I don't remember hearing about such things, so that adjustment, if applicable, isn't made for previous years. If you have any details about such things, please let me know.)

First off, we see that, from a # of days perspective, no Congress works terribly hard - I'm sure members would say they have to spend time in their home districts hobnobbing with constituents, fundraising, etc. But still, only 3 congresses (2 of them under the Democrats) worked for 159 days or more; 3 Congresses worked 110 days or fewer (all 3 of them under the Republicans). Indeed, we see that recent Republican Congresses have been quite lazy, even by the standards of past Republican Congresses - the most recent 4 Republican Congresses worked, on average, 24.78 fewer days per year than the Republican Congresses that preceded them (back to 1993, anyway).

The picture for Republican Congresses' work ethic looks even worse when compared to Democratic Congresses. On average over the period of time I looked at (1993-now), Democratic Congresses worked 9.32% more than Republican Congresses, or 11.85 days more per year. Recently, however, Democratic Congresses have been working more than past Democratic Congresses, while Republican Congresses have been working less than past Republican Congresses, greatly increasing the "work ethic gap" between the two parties. Comparing just the last four sessions from each party, recent Democratic Congresses worked 29.32% more than recent Republican Congresses (a HUGE difference), or a whopping 32.25 days per year (i.e. an entire 6 weeks more than Republican Congresses).

Why do recent Republican Congresses seem to be so lazy? Between the fact that they seem to never want to actually, you know, legislate, and the fact that they often seem to want to dismantle most functions of government, one sometimes wonders why Republicans want to get elected to office at all - it doesn't appear to be their bag of "tea."

Well, here's what one Republican had to say on the matter:
Here's what one Republican congressman had to say: "Keeping us up here eats away at families," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer."
Actually, marriages used not to suffer because most Congress(wo)men used to move their entire families to Washington, DC while they served in Congress, so you didn't need to fly home on Thursdays and back on Tuesdays. It's been a big problem for my city, actually - since Congress(wo)men don't feel like they live here anymore, they don't feel a connection to DC; consequently, they don't feel the need to do anything to maintain or improve the city, and they don't care about using the city as a political football. But, that's a rant for another post.

Back to the matter at hand - aside from making Congress(wo)men look lazy, there are real negative consequences to having such a leisurely legislative schedule. From a 2006 article on Congressional laziness:
In a typical week, like last week, the House returns to work Tuesday but does not vote until late afternoon or early evening. Last Tuesday, the first vote was at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday is a heavy day, with hearings and votes and other official functions jammed in from early morning until late at night. Thursday is typically devoted to mopping up, with hearings in the morning and a goal of having the week's final vote by early afternoon, so members can catch flights home.

"When I tell constituents that our workweek is 2 1/2 days at best, they shake their heads," said Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash. "They wonder what we're doing, and I have to wonder, too."

With time short, lawmakers are forced to race from meeting to meeting. Wednesday, for example, Baird's schedule from 10 a.m. until noon called for him to be in three places at once -- a Budget Committee hearing on the pending budget for next year, a subcommittee hearing on pipeline safety and a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency's budget and priorities for next year.

With so many conflicts, Ornstein and others say lawmakers don't have enough time to seriously study the issues before them. Occasionally they don't even have time to read legislation before voting on it. Baird is trying to persuade Republicans to enforce a rule giving lawmakers three days to study a bill before a final vote is scheduled.

And although lawmakers insist time spent away from Washington is necessary to escape the distorted view of the United States that exists on Capitol Hill, experts say the part-time nature of lawmaking today has serious drawbacks.

The absence of oversight has direct effects, Ornstein says. Some of the problems buried in a massive bankruptcy bill that Congress passed last year could have been avoided with more time to review the bill, he said. Ornstein also believes the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina was worsened by the way Congress passed legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security, the sprawling agency responsible for coordinating government's response to natural disasters.

Ornstein and others say Congress should return to the five-day workweek to avoid similar problems in the future.

That isn't likely to happen. "I don't see it changing," Dicks said, noting that Republicans set the schedule.
That was back in 2006. Some things never change.

Personally, I wouldn't be quite so disgusted at Congress for these practices if they also let me work from Tuesday noon until Thursday in the early afternoon. What do you say, Congress - what's good for you is good for the rest of us federal employees, right? Right? Hello, Congress, anyone out there?

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