Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Congress Needs a Five-Day Workweek (Most of the Time)

This Congress has been as active and productive as any I can remember. The number of major bills passed and enacted into law, the serious, sustained activity in areas of broad, complex and critical importance, all are truly impressive. The Memorial Day recess (all right, all right, District Work Period) is a well-deserved few days off.

For all the impressive activity and output, it is still worth proposing one reform that I believe could truly transform Congress: the regular five-day workweek. Despite this year’s efforts, the fact is that Congress continues basically to operate on a three or three-and-one-half day week. There are usually no votes or other must-do activities on Monday or Friday and no real need to be in the Capitol or on the floor until midday on Tuesday. Members also push the leaders to get them out early enough on Thursday to catch planes back home.

The schedule and rhythms were much different when I came to Congress in 1969, and so were the interpersonal and cross-partisan relationships among Members. There was plenty of frenetic activity, and plenty of lawmakers, especially from New York, Pennsylvania and other nearby states, were proud members of the Tuesday-to-Thursday club. But there were also more sustained periods of debate and deliberation, more hearings with a sizable number of committee members in attendance, more lawmakers who stayed in Washington, D.C., two or three weeks out of four, going back home less often, more social interactions among them and more families residing in Washington and interacting with each other.

Most lawmakers want to catch those planes not just because they have political reasons to be back in the district, but because most keep their families there. There are chicken-and-egg problems sorting out causation here. The drive to go home nearly every weekend goes back probably to the huge class of 1974, when a slew of Democratic freshmen from tough districts decided that the best way to stay in the House for a second term was to campaign year-round, using such innovations as mobile district offices to build bonds in otherwise Republican areas. The ability to go home every weekend was facilitated by the vast expansion of jet travel and flights from National Airport regularly fanning out to most parts of the country.

When the class of 1994 came in, the slew of Republican freshmen not only felt the same need to secure their political bases back home as their 1974 counterparts, but also had a deep disdain, even contempt, for Washington and did not want to infect their families with a Potomac fever they viewed as more dangerous than Ebola or swine flu. So the bulk kept their families back home and spent as little time in Washington as they possibly could — many refusing even to rent apartments and sleeping on couches in their offices.

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