Incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned Tuesday that lawmakers should be prepared to work longer hours when the House convenes for the 110th Congress next month, asserting that the chamber will expand from its current Tuesday to Thursday schedule to a regular five-day workweek.
“Most weeks — not every week — but most weeks, yes, we will be working Monday, we will come in Monday at 6:30 [p.m.], and be working on Friday, as we used to do, until about two in the afternoon to give people time so they can get home,” Hoyer said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
The schedule will provide lawmakers with “a full Tuesday, a full Wednesday, a full Thursday” to conduct committee work, said Hoyer, who attributed a dearth of oversight in the 109th Congress in part to the current three-day schedule.
“We had no oversight,” Hoyer said. “First, you could argue there was no time for oversight, or you could argue there was no oversight and therefore no necessity to meet. But in any event, we are going to meet sufficient times, so the committees can do their jobs.”
While Hoyer vowed that the chamber will be in session “substantially more days” under the new majority — Democrats consistently have criticized the Republican leadership over the relatively small number of workdays in the current session — it remains to be seen whether the House also may reduce the number of recess periods to mirror a proposal by incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that would eliminate all extended recess periods in that chamber with the exception of the traditional August recess.
“There is great value to House Members being in their districts and talking to their people,” Hoyer said.
The Maryland lawmaker, who noted that he would discuss the matter with Reid, stated that while there needs to be “compatibility” between the chambers’ calendars, “there does not need to be a uniformity of our schedules.”
In particular, Hoyer said the House likely will maintain its weeklong July Fourth recess, asserting that May and June will be an “intense” period as the Democratic leadership aims to complete work on the fiscal 2008 appropriations bills in June.
“I think a week off is not a bad thing for Members to regenerate,” he said.
While the House also will schedule district work periods around Presidents Day and Easter, Hoyer said the Memorial Day recess likely will be shortened, stating: “We want to get our work done.”
As for the extended workweek, Hoyer said the House will move to a five-day schedule as soon as the Congress reconvenes next month.
“I expect to work most weekdays in January,” said Hoyer, who added that the finalized 2007 calendar likely will be issued at the end of this week.
A spokesman for Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “Democrats will end two-day workweeks and ensure that the business of the American people gets done.”
Democratic leaders have outlined an agenda for the first 100 legislative hours of the 110th Congress that would implement proposals by the bipartisan committee that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, raise the federal minimum wage, reduce prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients, promote stem-cell research, lower the interest rate for student loans and repeal certain tax benefits for the oil industry.
Although the House also must complete work on its fiscal 2007 appropriations bills — a continuing resolution is expected to fund the federal government until Feb. 15 — Hoyer said those spending bills will be addressed after the initial agenda is accomplished.
“The current leadership of the Congress has failed to meet its responsibilities, and they have left us to pick up their mess,” Hoyer said, noting that he intends to speak with incoming Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.). “We will have to figure out how best to do that.”
In addition, the House also must approve a new rules package, although Hoyer noted that legislation will not be considered as part of the 100-hours agenda. Although Democrats have vowed to be more respectful of the rights of the minority party, arguing that GOP leaders manipulated House rules and voting procedures during their 12 years in power, Hoyer said Tuesday that Republicans would not be intimately involved in crafting the Rules package
“We would like to have the participation and cooperation of our Republican colleagues, so certainly we are going to discuss it with them,” Hoyer said. “I think negotiation might not be necessarily, however, what we have in mind.”
He later added: “We intend to try to make sure that Representatives of Congress, given the constraints of a body of 435 people — where everybody can’t have an amendment, everybody can’t have five hours of debate; you would never get any work done — but we intend to have a Rules Committee ... that gives opposition voices, and alternative proposals the ability to be heard and considered on the floor of the House.”
In the meantime, Democrats likely will hold off on approving an overhaul of their own internal Democratic Caucus rules until the January session begins.
Rep. Mike Capuano (Mass.), who oversaw the update as chairman of the Caucus Committee on Organization, Study and Review, said Monday, “At the moment, it seems to make sense to do all the rules at one time.”
The Massachusetts lawmaker said waiting to approve the rules changes will not affect selection of committee chairmen or committee assignments, however.
“Most of the stuff was all cleanup,” Capuano said, noting that the Caucus rules had not been updated since Democrats previously held the majority. “I don’t think we suggested any substantive changes.”
The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee began meeting with would-be chairmen on Tuesday afternoon, starting with the exclusive Appropriations, Ways and Means, Financial Services and Energy and Commerce panels. The Caucus is slated to ratify those selections, as well as the Rules and Budget committee chairmanships, at a meeting this morning.
In addition, Pelosi met with current ranking members Tuesday to discuss the upcoming legislative calendar, including the 100-hours agenda.
In advance of his meeting with the Steering panel, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the presumptive chairman of the Financial Services Committee next year, said Tuesday that staff-level discussions have taken place, and predicted there will be “a very well-coordinated mission” among the 21 committee chairmen, although he declined to elaborate.