Instead Of Working Hard, Congress Is Hardly Working

Congress isn't spending much time in Washington these days but that's only one of the reasons it isn't accomplishing very much.

Capitol Building Daytime 1

An analysis by CNN shows that Congress is spending far less time in Washington than it has in several years:

A CNN analysis shows Congress has spent less time on Capitol Hill so far this year than in any of the previous five years.

House members have been in Washington for 56% of all non-holiday weekdays — essentially, fewer than three days a week. Senators have walked into the Capitol for 61% of weekdays.

The weeks are not just shorter, but consistently so. The Senate did not have a single five-day work week in Washington for the first seven months of the year. The House had two.

CNN counted days that lawmakers were in Washington excluding “pro-forma” sessions, which are technically considered work days but last only a few minutes and are usually ignored by members.

The number of congressional work days now is significantly less than the high point of 2009. That’s when the Senate met for 113 days before the August recess, which is 24 days more than the same period this year.

The House met for 19 more days in 2009 compared to this year.

At that time, Barack Obama was just beginning his presidency and Democrats led both chambers and pushed an aggressive agenda.

The time spent by members in Washington dropped sharply the following year and has decreased nearly every year since with each party controlling one house and partisanship defining the political climate.

One impact of the amount of time that Congress has actually been in session this year can be seen in the fact that only 15 bills have actually passed both Houses of Congress so far this year, far fewer than in previous years. More importantly, though, there has been next to no action on the most important legislation pending before Congress. The Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which must be passed by September 30th absent a Continuing Resolution, is basically languishing because the House and Senate have passed different versions of a budget and Tea Party Republicans in both chambers are blocking any attempt to create a Conference Committee, which is how things are normally handled when there are differences between legislation passed by the House and Senate. The Senate sent its Immigration Reform bill to the House more than a month ago, and its clear that the House is not going to be acting on it any time soon. The Farm Bill remains languishing in the House after having been defeated thanks in large part to significant defections from the Republican Caucus. And countless other pieces of legislation are barely even being considered.

Former Congressman Lee Hamilton is among those who lays at least part of the blame for the lack of Congressional productivity squarely on the fact that Congress isn’t working as much as it used to:

“They don’t spend enough time in Washington,” he said, frustrated, “They don’t get to know each other. When they do interact, they are often in confrontational settings. … Legislation is a very complex process. It takes a lot of time, a lot of give-and-take and you cannot force it.”

Hamilton, a Democrat who served in the House from 1965 to 1999, now runs the Center on Congress at Indiana University.

He believes the shorter window in Washington squeezes out the heavy lifting of lawmaking and that a lawmaker’s hours in the Capitol are filled with meet-and-greets, fundraisers and receptions instead of legislative work.

“It got to the point when I was there,” Hamilton recalled, “that I had 15 appointments on Tuesdays. You can’t get legislating done in that environment.”

The counterargument to Hamilton, of course, would be to point out that we’re at a point now where Congress really isn’t accomplishing very much when it is in Washington so it’s unclear what good spending more time in the Nation’s Capital is actually going to do. Realistically, the reasons that Congress hasn’t been very productive of late has more to do with the partisan forces dividing this country than it does with how much actual time a Member of Congress or a Senator is spending on the floor of their respective body or sitting in a Committee meeting. While it would be nice to think that forcing Congress to remain in session this month and work on the budget and the debt ceiling would lead to a deal, it’s more likely that it would result in a month of partisan bickering followed by a a September in which we one again go down to the wire wondering if we’ll actually see a budget this year or end up with yet another Continuing Resolution. More importantly, at least when Congress isn’t in session we can rest assured that they aren’t going to be doing anything dangerous or stupid. That alone is probably a good reason to be glad they’re on vacation.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. becca says:

    It’s all about chasing $$$$$$. Politicking has always drawn too much from the grifter class, for sure, but these days they are the dominate species. And shameless.

    If Big Money is to continue to chose candidates, then we are in dire need of a better class of rich people. This generation of wealth is a seriously tawdry lot.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    and at $174K a year…good work if you can get it.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    the reasons that Congress hasn’t been very productive of late has more to do with the partisan forces dividing this country

    Nice ‘both sides do’ it euphemism. I guess it beats facing the fact that the GOPs have no interest in governing.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Yes, Congress could be back in session, hard at work on working on attempts 41 through 60 to repeal “Obamacare.” The country is clearly better off when House Republicans leave town.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Nice ‘both sides do’ it euphemism. I guess it beats facing the fact that the GOPs have no interest in governing.

    Republicans are to good governing as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are to private sex lives.

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Hmm … methinks change their pay structure to a per diem. (just a hypothetical).

    I’m betting that they’d show up then.

  7. Tyrell says:

    @al-Ameda
    US Becoming Nation of Burger Flippers" reads one headline, as economic news shows job market weak, wages declining as skilled workers are taking any kind of work, including menial labor, jobs that have normally been the province of high school students and retired people. I do not know what kind of work that they will get now, probably scraping gum from underneath school desks or taking off the writing on bathroom walls.
    The spying goes on. Who will be audited and locked up this week?
    One thing Congress could do is actually read the bills they passed, such as the "Affordable Healthcare" Act, which is neither affordable nor healthy.
    "We need to pass it so we can see what is in it" Pelosi
    Or some of them could head over to Libya and talk to the leaders of the attack on the US embassy
    and our flag. CNN will be glad to show them where they are.

  8. anjin-san says:

    Shorter Tyrell

    “I get all my information from Fox”

  9. al-Ameda says:

    @Tyrell:
    Thanks for reminding us all that Republicans have favored policies that diminish the middle class, and devalue higher education and learning, for the last 30 to 40 years.

  10. stonetools says:

    Let’s be honest. Congress WILL not accomplish anything significant unless and until the Democrats regain the House in 2014. This Congress is on track to do one more thing-shut the government down altogether later this year. I think they’ll get that done.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    Republican Congress-people’s are working hard…at sabotaging the economy and thus the country. Unfortunately for them the country is more resilient than they counted on. It’s going to take a lot more than a bunch of white bigots pretending to be statesmen to take us down.
    America. F’ yeah…

  12. JohnMcC says:

    Conservatives have always loved that quote ‘that govenment that governs least, governs best.’

    (And I see from looking it up that although it’s attributed to Jefferson, the Montecello-dot-org folks say they can’t find it in any of his writings; they point to Henry David Thoreau and an earlier magazine writer in 1837 — interesting).

    Well, we’ll see how that works in a 21st Century nation-state with some 325 million citizens and global responsibilities.

  13. Pinky says:

    @C. Clavin: We had a recent chat about civility. Let me ask you, do you really believe that Republicans are acting (or failing to act) with the intent of hurting the economy?

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Pinky: I have no idea what C. Clavin believes. I believe that some Republicans are quite deliberately harming the economy.

    Some Republicans are doing it because, as conservatives are wont to do, they believe their own bullstuff. But others regard unemployment and stagnant wages as a small price to pay. Until Obama, fiscal stimulus was an automatic and bi-partisan response to recession. Do you really think senior Republicans don’t remember that, and don’t remember why they routinely did stimulus? Do you think that when Mitch McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” that he didn’t mean exactly that?

    If they can keep the economy down, not only could they make Obama’s reelection harder (unsuccessfully as it turned out), they make it harder for the Dem in ’16. More importantly, as long as the economy is flat they can holler about the deficit and try to kill SS and Medicare. The ’08 crisis and subsequent recession had nothing to do with government debt or entitlements, but the GOPs (here and their equivalents in Europe) are still determined to use the recession to roll back any benefit to anyone but themselves. And they are panicking as they see their opportunity receding. Please read Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine, to understand what’s going on.

    As to civility, GOPs want to be treated with respect, maybe they could try behaving respectably.

  15. Moosebreath says:

    @Pinky:

    I’m not Cliffy, but I’d saying the Republicans are recklessly indifferent to whether their actions harm the economy, but than specifically intending to do so.

  16. Pinky says:

    @gVOR08: Yeah, yeah, you’re the victim in all this, but let me ask you then, how do you have a conversation with someone you consider to be a villain? Second, slightly different, quesiton, why would you have a conversation with someone you consider to be a villain? What’s to be gained from it? It seems to me like your assumptions preclude the possibility of civil discussion.

  17. Moosebreath says:

    @Pinky:

    “Second, slightly different, quesiton, why would you have a conversation with someone you consider to be a villain? What’s to be gained from it?”

    I’m not gVOR08, but I think there are 2 answers to this:
    1. because villain or not, the other party has some degree of power, and it is necessary to reach an accomodation with them in order to do things which you want done (this seems to only apply to Congressional Republicans, not random people on the internet).
    2. because if you can convince them that what they are advocating is evil, they may change (which applies more to the internet than Congress).

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @gVOR08:

    More importantly, as long as the economy is flat they can holler about the deficit and try to kill SS and Medicare. The ’08 crisis and subsequent recession had nothing to do with government debt or entitlements, but the GOPs (here and their equivalents in Europe) are still determined to use the recession to roll back any benefit to anyone but themselves.

    And …. it’s not as if Republican motives are hidden either – they are brazen and open about it. They are not aiming to reform any social benefit program, their goal is to eviscerate those programs.

  19. Pinky says:

    OK, does anyone here on either side think that they can learn something from those they disagree with? Does anyone think that their opponents aren’t fools (at the bottom) or knaves (at the top)?

  20. David M says:

    @Pinky:

    Given the level of willful ignorance on the part of the GOP, I’m not sure this is a both sides problem. On most issues today, it’s clear the GOP line isn’t to be taken seriously. The problem is not that they are advocating conservative policies, it’s that they are advocating nonsense. The GOP does not currently have any interest in actual policy positions, it’s purely political.

  21. Tillman says:

    @Pinky:

    OK, does anyone here on either side think that they can learn something from those they disagree with?

    Oh, plenty. I learned from Bruce Bartlett about how supply-side economics made perfect sense at the time the theory was created. Keynesianism had been misapplied by the left in the ’70s, who thought as supply-side conservatives think now that the economics of it would hold true no matter the circumstances. If you apply a tax cut to everyone when they’re paying ~40% and higher (up to 70% or 90% in some cases), you’ll get economic growth. If you apply a tax cut when they’re paying less than 20%, it won’t happen again.

    I still disagree with Bartlett on plenty of things, but those disagreements are rooted in theory for the most part. We agree on the basic fundamentals. The issue with conservative actors in the media and politics is that they see the fundamentals differently, leading to conceptual differences that can’t be overcome with basic debate.

    That’s a problem just for the people who think the fundamentals are worth seeing accurately. To craven opportunists, well, they go whichever way the wind is blowing.

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pinky:

    Let me ask you, do you really believe that Republicans are acting (or failing to act) with the intent of hurting the economy?

    I don’t know about Clavin, but I certainly and sincerely believe that.

  23. Pinky says:

    OK, the next question has got to be, why should anyone you disagree with want to talk to you? Take the upthread comment about entitlement reform. If someone has read the Ryan plan and disagrees with your assessment of it (I haven’t), would you want to hear from them? Would you be willing to talk about a plan’s specifics or even general goals, or would you assume that the person was an opponent and therefore a liar or fool?

  24. David M says:

    @Pinky:

    The Ryan plan is a joke.

    Simply put, the goals are a non-starter for a civilized society and the numbers don’t even add up. It’s a perfect example of what I mean when I say the GOP doesn’t do policy.

  25. Moosebreath says:

    @Pinky:

    As a member of a party which combines the ability to listen to people of opposing views of Rush Limbaugh, the flexibility on policy goals of James Inhofe, and the willingness to accept a fair compromise of Ted Cruz, I don’t think that you are terribly persuasive in trying to guilt people on the other side of the aisle that they are the ones who are preventing civil discourse. Removing the mote from your eye first might help.

  26. Andre Kenji says:

    @Pinky:

    If someone has read the Ryan plan and disagrees with your assessment of it (I haven’t), would you want to hear from them?

    The Ryan Plan is complete masturbation. Specially because it plans to cut too little from the current recipients. Besides that, if Ryan can do TEN YEARS or MORE projections of the economy he should go work in the financial markets.

    There is no way to make reliable projections of what the economy and deficit will be in ten years. It´s entire possible that some debt crisis would increase interest rates in some years, or that the US would face stagnation and deflation like Japan faced in the 90´s. No one knows, and doing plans that are only going to be enacted in the future is not doing any plans at all.

  27. Pinky says:

    @Moosebreath: I’m not talking about parties here. I don’t think I’ve ever said if I’m a member of a party, and I’ve addressed most of the questions on this thread to both sides. I also believe that there’s a difference between a person and his party. Don’t you? I try not to hold anyone responsible for the dumbest things members of his party have said. But both sides on this site are way too comfortable assuming that the person they’re talking to is Vitter or Weiner. And what’s with the “two sides” mentality on this site? I’ve probably fallen into it myself more times than I realize, but political discussions here have all the subtlety of pro wrestling. Yay good guy! Boo bad guy! Good guy did something bad, now he’s a bad guy! Boo!

  28. Pinky says:

    @Andre Kenji: That’s kind of a fair point, and does address a policy question. But the problem is that any conversation about Social Security and Medicare has got to include actuarial data and forecasts. There’s no way around that.

  29. john425 says:

    @gVOR08: No-it means that Republicans don ‘t want to roll over and play dead for Democrats. Not content with oppressing 1/2 of the country, Democrats want the other half.

  30. al-Ameda says:

    @john425:

    @gVOR08: No-it means that Republicans don ‘t want to roll over and play dead for Democrats. Not content with oppressing 1/2 of the country, Democrats want the other half.

    Damn right they’re not content to try to act responsibly, why just two years ago they leveraged the Federal Debt Limit Ceiling fight into a downgrade of American debt.