Wildly Unprofessional? Really?

[ Posted Monday, March 18th, 2024 – 16:59 UTC ]

I admit, right up front, that I almost took today off. Seeing as how it is the day after St. Patrick's Day, I felt some temptation to "call in sick" as it were. Or I could have just written a very lazy column comparing Donald Trump's recent incendiary language on the campaign trail to the lyrics of two songs from Pink Floyd's album The Wall (which has quite a bit to say on the subject of the rise of fascism in a democracy): "Waiting For The Worms," and "Run Like Hell." Feel free to click on those links to read the lyrics, if you'd like to see how easy a comparison that would have been.

But instead I am going to write a different very lazy column on a subject that has always peeved me no end: the insanely-generous vacation schedules for members of Congress. Here is the quote that set me off today, from a blurb of an article about the ongoing discussions in Congress to prevent a government shutdown this Friday night:

Further increasing pressure on top lawmakers to wrap up funding negotiations: Both the House and Senate are scheduled to adjourn on Friday for a two-week recess. Conservatives complain that aligning the government shutdown deadline with that scheduled departure is a typical ploy to force agreement on a massive funding package that will be unveiled late.

"It shouldn't be lost on anyone," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), "that they set this up in that way to create this sort of contrived emergency, against which they want the ability to message against anyone expressing concerns about the bill of desiring a shutdown, which is completely disingenuous and wildly unprofessional."

"Wildly unprofessional"? Um, excuse me, Senator, was that supposed to be a joke, or what?

In reality, the hard cold truth is that this Congress cannot do anything without a deadline hanging over their heads. Even then, they often can't manage to do their basic job. A quick review is in order:

The budget bills they are now haggling over were supposed to be signed into law last September. But they didn't meet their deadline -- they punted. And then they didn't meet that deadline, so they punted again. And then again. That is where we are -- Congress is still mightily struggling to complete the work that was supposed to be on Joe Biden's desk before the end of last September. You want "wildly unprofessional," Senator Lee? There you go.

Even with this interminable delay, they are still going to struggle to get it all done by Friday at midnight. We may have a "mini-shutdown" for a few hours (or even a few days) before the bills arrive on Biden's desk -- and that's if they manage to hammer out a deal on the entire rest of the budget in the next 24 hours or so. Which is a very big "if" indeed. And Lee is complaining about a "contrived emergency"? Congress is now five and a half months past the budget's due date and he calls it "contrived"?

But even all of that wasn't what set me off. What got my ire up was any member of Congress complaining about the possibility of missing one of their precious vacation days. Oh sure, they call them "district work periods" or some other Orwellian nonsense, but these are days when Congress is not in session and all the members are elsewhere... perhaps on a sunny beach somewhere?

Let's take a look at the 2024 calendar for both houses of Congress, shall we? After all, we are the taxpayers who provide these people's rather lavish salaries, so let's see how "professional" the people in Congress actually are. And feel free to measure this schedule against however much vacation time you get in your job.

Let's divide the year into two chunks and count up the days. You can look at the two houses' official calendars (House and Senate) or you can see them combined into one calendar to make counting easier.

From the start of January through the end of June, there are 130 weekdays (exactly 26 weeks). To be fair, we'll begin by subtracting the federal holidays from that total. In the first half of the year, there are five of them (New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Junior's Birthday, Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, and Juneteenth National Independence Day). This leaves 125 days when any high-paid professional employee of a private company would be expected to be at their desk.

Let's start with the Senate, since it was a senator complaining. The Senate is taking eight full weeks off during the first six months of the year. Add into that 11 other days they are taking off here and there, and then subtract the federal holidays to come up with the Senate being out of session for a whopping 46 days. Divide it out, and you can see that the Senate takes off almost 37 percent of the days that most people (outside of Congress, that is) will be at work. That's over a third of the total time!

The House is even worse, though. The House is taking nine full weeks off, with an additional 17 days, for good measure. After subtracting the federal holidays, this comes out to 57 days off (when, again, most people have to work). That is over 45 percent of the total amount of non-holiday weekdays!

But (are you sitting down?) that is all the more-productive half of the year for Congress -- by far. In the second half of the year, both houses of Congress have two enormous vacations built-in -- five weeks off in August/September and six weeks off in October and November.

In the last six months of the year, there are a total of 132 weekdays. Out of this total, six of them are federal holidays (Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus/Indigenous Peoples' Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day). Seeing as how we're not Scrooge, we will also toss in three more days that many salaried workers will get off as well: the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve. That makes a total of nine holidays, leaving 123 non-holiday workdays.

The Senate will be taking off 70 of them, or almost 57 percent of them. The House again outdoes the Senate in laziness and will be taking off 78 days, or over 63 percent of them -- almost two-thirds of the days they could be at work. Neither house will get close to appearing for even half the available workdays.

For the whole year, the figures wind up at: 248 non-holiday workdays (not even counting the generous extra three free vacation days I tossed in). The Senate will be absent for 116 of them, or over 46 percent. The House snuck in roughly an extra four weeks of vacation somehow, and will be off for 135 days, or over 54 percent of the time they could have been working.

Even all of this math is generous as well, because it doesn't count all the half days they are "in session." The calendar might say Friday is a work day, but when Congress convenes for only a short period in the morning and all the members are on flights heading home by early afternoon that's not really a full day's work. And sometimes they don't even bother to do that, and they all scarper off home on Thursday (no matter what the calendar actually says). None of my figures here reflect this basic reality of the situation.

So yes, Senator Lee, there is indeed some "wildly unprofessional" behavior happening in Congress. But it certainly isn't: "The big meanies running the place are forcing us to do our jobs -- five-and-a-half months late -- by this Friday night or else our two-week vacations might be cut short!" If anything is "wildly unprofessional" it is throwing a tantrum for such (to Lee) manifest unfairness, when to any average professional worker the complaint is just laughable. You want to "express concerns" about the budget bills? Well, you've had almost an entire extra half-year to do so. You want to talk about what is and is not "professional"? Well, how about you guys eliminate some of your extravagant vacations if you need extra time to do your basic job -- your basic constitutional duty to fund the federal government? That would be some professional behavior. You might try it sometime, instead of pathetically whining about it.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “Wildly Unprofessional? Really?”

  1. [1] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    In theory they meet their constituents and conduct necessary business in their state or district. In theory. And perhaps at one time they did. In reality, most will be fundraising most of the time.

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    begging for money is hard work!

  3. [3] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    Mezzomamma [1]
    There was also a time when it took much longer just to travel back and forth from their districts. A week off was more like 2 or 3 days after you accounted for travel and recuperation time. And you couldn't just talk with your family over the phone or computer every night, you'd need to send letters that would take days or weeks to arrive, so it was even more pressing to spend as much time as possible with them during time off. In the past, all that extra time off really was necessary, but modern modes of travel and communication have changed that significantly. Of course, who would ever vote to give themselves less time off?

  4. [4] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    The average freshman member of Congress spends 30 hours a week seeking money from donors. They are required to do this by their political party. If they work 10 hour days, five days a week, that means only 2 days out of the 5-day work week are spent doing the job that their constituents elected them to do! The majority of their time is not spent working with their fellow members of Congress on legislation because their main focus is on their own survival and not on doing what is best for their constituents.

    So even when they do bother to show up, they aren’t doing the job they were elected to do.

  5. [5] 
    dsws wrote:

    Of course Ukraine could win militarily, with any reasonable level of support from the West. Anyone who thinks otherwise either is confusing Russia with the entire Soviet empire, or else is thinking about their fears or hopes rather than about reality. Russia has a vast armory of Soviet-era military hardware, but its current military-industrial capacity can barely keep up with battlefield losses by pulling stuff out of storage and refurbishing it.

    There are big differences between categories. If I remember right, they're doing well on aircraft and anti-air missiles, because those were the only major export items they actually produced in the last quarter-century (rather than pulling out of the ground).

    Nobody's artillery production is anywhere close to keeping up with current use. But the reasons are different. The US has a policy of stockpiling enough of everything to theoretically be able to win simultaneous total wars against both China and whoever the second-strongest potential enemy is, probably India although people used to assume it was Russia. We were only manufacturing enough artillery shells to keep up with our very limited training use, and we've now increased our production only by the equally tiny amount that would be necessary to gradually replenish our stockpile by the time currently-produced shells get too old to use. But we have the basic industrial capacity to increase a hundredfold, if we wanted to. By contrast, Russia is going all-out, and their use rate had declined below Ukraine's until they got an infusion of shells from North Korea.

    Russia has nothing going for it except nuclear blackmail and Western and moral cowardice. (It's not Ukrainians who are urging surrender.) Giving Russia a yet-to-be-determined percentage of Ukraine -- yes, "half" was a pessimistic projection for the first tranche, but it doesn't really matter whether we pressure Ukraine into ceding 50% of its territory now and 50% later, or 20% now and 80% later -- would send an unmistakable signal to every third-rate regional power in the world that a nuclear arsenal is the solution to all their worries.

    Russia delenda est.

  6. [6] 
    dsws wrote:

    They are required to do this by their political party.

    I'm dubious that the parties per se have the leverage to literally impose such a requirement. But I think the actual effect is similar. Campaign funds that can be used without a thin layer of separation between candidate and campaign are transferable, and a member in a non-contested district has to raise money for use in the few contested districts if they want other members to owe them any favors.

  7. [7] 
    dsws wrote:

    More broadly, of course, the point is correct: members of Congress aren't just taking vacations when Congress is not in session. Approximately none of the work of Congress is done in the formalities on the floors of the respective chambers. Drafting legislation, meeting with staffers, meeting with constituents, providing constituent services, negotiating with other members -- all of it can be done just as well when Congress nominally isn't in session as when it is.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    (It's not Ukrainians who are urging surrender.) Giving Russia a yet-to-be-determined percentage of Ukraine -- yes, "half" was a pessimistic projection for the first tranche, but it doesn't really matter whether we pressure Ukraine into ceding 50% of its territory now and 50% later, or 20% now and 80% later -- would send an unmistakable signal to every third-rate regional power in the world that a nuclear arsenal is the solution to all their worries.

    Of course, no one here is suggesting anything like that or, I would guess, even contemplating or imagining same ... except you!

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