Tuesday, March 21, 2006


With Multiple Problems Facing America; Republicans In Congress Decide to Roll Up Their Shirtsleeves. Sort Of.

Lawmakers get out of the House

By Kathy Kiely

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives is on track this year to be in session for fewer days than the Congress Harry Truman labeled as “do-nothing” during his 1948 re-election campaign.

Members of Congress are taking an entire week off for St. Patrick's Day. It's the latest scheduling innovation to give members more time to meet with constituents.

Through Friday, the House was in session for 19 days, compared with 33 for the Senate. If they stick to their current schedule — including two weeks off in April, a week in May and July, plus all of August — House members will spend 97 days in Washington this year.

The House was in session 108 days in 1948, according to the chamber's archives, compared with 141 days last year.

“This is an election year and people want to see more of their constituents,” says House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

During the first two months of the year, House members logged a total of 47 hours in the Capitol. They took off almost the entire month of January , while the Senate confirmed Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

For both chambers, workweeks have become short in recent years. Roll call votes are seldom scheduled for Mondays or Fridays. In the House, they are often postponed until late Tuesday.

As a result, it's difficult to schedule committee meetings. Some panels meet when Congress is not in session, but not often.

When in Washington, lawmakers do a lot of multitasking. Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., struggled to ready an immigration bill for the full Senate, as panel members drifted in and out of the room. They were juggling a floor debate on the budget and other meetings.

Critics contend Congress needs time to discuss important issues. “The Tuesday-to-Thursday work schedule is a detriment,” says Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who served five terms in the House during the 1980s and returned last year.

Some experts think an absentee Congress is not bad. “I don't think there's anything wrong with them being out of Washington,” says John Samples of the Cato Institute, a think tank that favors limited government. “They might be better representatives.”

Lawmakers will make $165,200 this year. Leaders earn more.

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