Lawmakers: 5 Day Work Week a Grind

There is a growing bipartisan consensus among Congressmen that they work too damned hard, reports The Politico‘s Ryan Grim.

Even before Democratic leaders have made good on promises to harness lawmakers five days a week, cross-party opposition is growing, with senators ready to revolt and House members simmering over the new schedule.

The most popular move afoot would have lawmakers working for three weeks at a stretch with a week off — or some variation on that theme, several House and Senate members said. Such a schedule would roughly reflect the one in practice under previous Republican rule in the Senate. “They should really work us so we get things done, then give us a few weeks off so we can do the Kiwanis Clubs and all that,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. “If you leave early Monday, yes, you can get here for a 4:30 vote, but you lose the whole working day of Monday.”

There’s a broadening bipartisan “uprising” to ditch the longer workweek among both lawmakers and staff, especially in the Senate, said a top Democratic Senate aide. “It’s a grind,” said Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who enjoys one of the easiest commutes to the Capitol from his home in Northern Virginia. “It’s a lot more stringent than people originally thought it would be.” A visibly annoyed Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., agreed: “I just told (Reid) I won’t be back by 4:30” for the vote Monday, “even though I’m catching a 1:55 flight.”

But the Democratic leadership isn’t budging. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that he’s gotten complaints from both sides of the aisle, but that the schedule is set. The proposed plan of three weeks on, one week off, he said, is something he’s heard a lot about. “We’ll look at it, but nothing’s going to change this year,” he said. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is holding firm on the existing schedule, a leadership aide said.

From the perspective of the electorate, where a five day work week would often constitute a reduction in workload, this seems even more farcical than lawmakers making nearly $200,000 a year complaining about how hard it is to make ends meet. Given the current job description of Members of Congress, though, these complaints are valid.

Once upon a time, Congress was in session for a few months at a time and then out for long recesses, especially during the days before air conditioning when summers on the Potomac were too hot to endure. Nowadays, though, Members have to juggle year-round sessions with the reality of the permanent campaign. Senators and, especially, Representatives are expected to be back home every weekend so that they can judge the Little Miss Peapatch contest, eat barbecue, and kiss babies.

My conservative instincts on these matters has me torn. On the one hand, it seemed somehow wrong that Members were being paid a handsome salary for a three day work week that involved them spending our money on pork projects to help get themselves re-elected and then spending the other four days back home (on their dime) working to get re-elected. On the other, if they spend five days a week in Washington, they’re going to cause 40% more mischief. Forced to chose, I’d rather them go home.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. madmatt says:

    And the staff’s which are being paid with tax dollars are complaining of having to work 40 hrs?

  2. legion says:

    While there’s a perfectly valid argument for Members to spend a fair amount of time back in their home districts (those are, after all, the people whose business they’re suppsed to be doing), I can’t imagine they have much in the way of office hours (or anything other than some family time & fundraisers) just going home for the weekends… the 3-week/1-week proposal actually sounds rather sensible.

    And don’t even get me started on how tough it is to “make ends meet” on their salaries…

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Plus office budgets, a great healthcare package, and retirement provisions which ordinary Americans can only dream of, etc.

    Once upon a time, Congress was in session for a few months at a time and then out for long recesses, especially during the days before air conditioning when summers on the Potomac were too hot to endure.

    My dad used to argue in favor of a Constitutional amendment prohibiting air conditioning in Congress, Congressional offices, or anywhere Congressmen meet.

    Two words: Parkinson’s Law. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Look, the real solution is to get Congress out of the 18th century. Why do Congressmen meet, physically, at all? They should be “meeting” electronically while staying physically in their districts. It would be better ecologically and better for time management.

  5. legion says:

    Dave, it’s way too early in the day to get into Foley IM jokes… 🙂

  6. Edgardo says:

    I’d be better that Senators and Representatives work at home, in particular Nancy Pelosi. From instapundit:

    GLOBAL WARMING UPDATE: “The Bush administration has agreed to provide House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with regular access to an Air Force passenger jet, but the two sides are negotiating whether she will get the big aircraft she wants and who she may take as passengers, according to congressional and administration sources. . . . The defense source, who asked not to be named, termed her request ‘carte blanche,’ saying she wanted a plane that could carry an entourage just like President Bush, who flies on Air Force One, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who also always flies on military planes.” Well, she is third in the line of succession, but you don’t need an entourage for that. Dennis Hastert used a commuter-sized jet.

  7. For the responsibilities they carry, our elected representatives are grossly underpaid. To state otherwise reveals an ignorance of what real talent is worth in the world today. And realistically, these folks are on the job 70-80 hours a week, almost without exception, although I’ll grant that what I mean by on the job is a little more expansive than merely being in session, but that goes with the territory.

    But while I’m ranting, how about a solution to a related problem? How about we move the capitol of the United States to, say, Nebraska or Kansas. Why? Let me count the reasons…

    1. At least a few more minutes warning if somebody does want to launch nuclear weapons from a submarine.

    2. DC was more or less in the center of the country when it was established as the capitol. That hasn’t been true for a long, long time. Let’s get back to basics.

    3. Fight against the Washington to Boston “Corridor” bias built into our entire culture and seek to reduce the impact of the smaller Northeastern states that have an undue influence on our body politic. Let the representatives from Delaware, for instance, have to travel a bit to get back and forth for a change, while also conveniently shortening the trips for, oh, I don’t know, Nancy Pelosi and her entourage.

    4. Land is much, much cheaper in Nebraska and Kansas than DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia. And I bet it will stay that way even after the capitol is moved.

    5. Reestablish the capitol as a place where no one will formally reside, return DC to Maryland and get rid of the ridiculous statehood for DC campaigns.

    6. People are friendlier in the Midwest. Even if we end up sacrificing some of that, any of it that rubs off on our, ahem, servants, would be a good thing.

    7. Talk about a jobs program. Holy cow! Any good Keynesian would start drooling at the effect a building program of this magnitude would have on the economy.


  8. David Bates says:

    I’m just heartbroken for these guys! Many of them spent millions of dollars to buy their way into congress. I guess they have been duped…no actually they just keep duping the majority of us.