Congress' (lack of) work ethnic

Monday February 25, 2013

The Providence (R.I.) Journal, Feb. 22, 2013

We're sure that many citizens have noticed that members of the U.S. House and Senate take astonishing amounts of time off, or at least time when they aren't working in Washington. Most go home to campaign frequently -- whether or not it's an election year. Another good reason for term limits! And they rarely meet on Fridays or weekends except in the most dire emergencies, such as their frenetic fiscal cliff work at the end of 2012 and start of this year.

Their lack of work on Capitol Hill shows up in bad legislation that many members don't bother to read, in leaving complex and controversial matters so often to the last moment, and in the undue power that legislators' very frequent absences give to the unelected people who staff their offices and who actually write most legislation.

As former Comptroller of the Currency David Walker noted, Congress usually takes all of August and at least a week for every federal holiday. They're off again this week! And other long stretches too, at short notice. The problem seems to get worse and worse as the years roll by.

Consider the equivalent of a full month that it plans to take off this spring -- even as America faces major fiscal decisions on automatic spending cuts and President Obama's proposed budget.

Folks on Capitol Hill like to spout off about average Americans' wonderful work ethic. It would be nice if they showed more of themselves when it comes to legislating as opposed to campaigning. We'd also probably have a more effective Congress if members spent more time getting to know each other and each other's legislation and less time flying out of town to their districts, where they denounce fellow solons. And when they are in Washington, they spend an inordinate amount of time on K Street on the phone "dialing for dollars."


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