Congress: Nice Work, If You Can Get It

[ Posted Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 – 16:37 UTC ]

Bob Schieffer, political guru at CBS News, usually closes out his Sunday political show Face The Nation with a few pithy words. This week's commentary was a bit pithier than usual, though, for which he should be applauded.

Here is the transcript of the entire segment, this week:

Finally today, I've been a reporter for a while, 54 years, if you have to know. And I cannot recall an overload of news from so many places as we have experienced these past eleven weeks. It began in January with the horrible shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, but by the end of the month all that pushed off television and the front pages as Egypt came apart.

We wrestled with that story for three weeks until it was pushed aside by those protests by public union employees in Wisconsin. We got New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's take on that when he dropped by Face The Nation, but he wasn't even out of the studio when the first trouble surfaced in Libya.

Then came one of history's worst earthquakes followed by a devastating tsunami followed by the nuclear disaster in Japan. And now we're back to Libya and trying to figure out if we've gone to war in yet another Muslim country and whether we'll be asked to play a similar role in Syria and Yemen and who knows where else. Well, thank goodness we got a little relief from Congress. In case you hadn't noticed, they've been here since January, that is, except for three vacation breaks, but they have managed to do exactly nothing.

With all the other news, if they had done anything, I don't know when we would have had time to cover it or where we would have put it. But I double checked. We didn't miss a thing. Back in a minute.

Schieffer makes an excellent point that the media normally don't even bother to make: Congress doesn't do very much, mostly because they don't work very much any more.

From the beginning of the year until today, there are 62 weekdays in the calendar. Two of these were federal holidays, and I'll even throw in a third holiday (New Year's Day) even though it fell on a Saturday this year. This leaves 59 non-holiday weekdays, or roughly 12 weeks.

In fact, for the past three years, there have been 59 non-holiday weekdays in the calendar between January first and today's date. To someone with a good private sector job (with paid holidays, in other words), this would mean, barring sickness, working an actual 59 days. To someone with a not-so-good private sector job, this would mean working the full 62 days (and getting docked for sick days, to boot).

Here is how many days Congress has worked in the past three years (data from the Library of Congress):

2009 House -- 44 days
2009 Senate -- 51 days

2010 House -- 40 days
2010 Senate -- 40 days

2011 House -- 33 days
2011 Senate -- 31 days

This is pathetic. Even the high-water mark of 51 days is pretty laughable. How many people working in the private sector would be allowed to take eight working days off in the first three months of the year? That's a week and a half. And that's the high water mark.

The low water mark is the Senate, this year, who has seen fit to only show up one-half of the weekdays available to it. They took an astonishing twenty-eight workdays off, in under three months' time. That is taking almost six weeks off, to put it another way.

It's no wonder, really, that nothing has gotten done. Unless you count fundraising, of course, which is probably going gangbusters, as always (I have no hard numbers on this, but still think it's a pretty reasonable assumption).

This isn't even a partisan problem, as the numbers show. John Boehner's House seems as reluctant to show up to work as Harry Reid's Senate. This is a bit unusual, since normally Congress works very hard just after a "sweeping change" sort of election -- to pass everything on the new "in" party's agenda as quickly as possible. For instance, when Democrats swept things back in 2007, they managed to work 48 days in the House and 51 in the Senate during this time period. And when Newt Gingrich took over the House back in 1995, Congress worked almost as hard as the private sector -- 52 days in the House, and a whopping 57 in the Senate.

But this year, the brand-new revolutionary-Tea-Party-fueled Republican House only worked 33 days. Which is, as mentioned, pathetic.

Perhaps it's not fair to compare the past two years, since in 2009 Democrats had swept the board, electorally, and there was a lot of stuff on the "to do" list with a new Democratic president in the White House. Last year was a bit unusual as well, since during this time period the final deals were struck on the healthcare reform legislation, when Congress actually (gasp!) worked a few weekend days.

But, fair or not, it is a fact that Congress is working fewer days each year. They all fly home for the weekends, and take a week off every month for fundraising back in the home district. In fact, the Senate this year has worked only two full five-day workweeks. The House? Zero. That's right -- the gung-ho "we're going to change everything" House hasn't managed to work one single full workweek yet, this year.

The next two weeks are going to be a gigantic game of "chicken" on the budget, between Harry Reid and John Boehner. Attention is going to be on Congress, as they decide what budget cuts to make. The news media is already drooling over the prospects of a government shutdown -- they just can't wait to lay blame all over the place, because it would improve their ratings (as they vie with one another over who can show the coolest "government closed" video clips).

Since most of this debate in Congress will be posturing around some hot-button issue or another, I'd like to suggest one -- how about we pay Congress only for the days they show up to work? Over in the Senate, this would have saved almost half the money we've paid these goldbrickers so far this year.

Just a thought....


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


3 Comments on “Congress: Nice Work, If You Can Get It”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    I saids it before and I'll says it again..

    I'd like to suggest one -- how about we pay Congress only for the days they show up to work? Over in the Senate, this would have saved almost half the money we've paid these goldbrickers so far this year.

    THAT is the best idea ever!!!

    Dem or GOP, it doesn't matter...

    For chreest's sake, why don't they do the job they were hired for!!!???


  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    After listening to Bob's closing remarks on Sunday, I smiled ... and, immediately thought of you. :)

    Just wanted to say that ...

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Liz and Michale -

    Yeah, Bob was pretty spot-on this week, I have to admit. It was sneaky, too, as he seemed to be building up to some sort of media criticism, then he just laid on in to Congress.

    I got the transcript off of Lexis/Nexis (a paywall site), which is why I didn't post a link, but if anyone feels like posting a video link, feel free....


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