Many Americans had long suspected that Congress and other Washington politicians were not working very hard for the good of the country and the good of their constituents. The war on drugs was declared over forty years and is still a lost cause. In the 1980s, a Reagan commission on pubic education showed how poorly our schools were educating our kids. Three decades later, that situation has gotten even worse. In the 1970s, the nation’s economy was shocked any number of times by oil shortages, exposing the fact that the country did not have a long term strategic plan for energy independence and stability.
What have Congress and the politicians been doing for the past four decades? We know that they do not work 40 hour weeks, 50 weeks a year. In fact, Congress will only be in session about 115 days this year. What do they do during these less-than-robust working hours? They obviously are not coming up with solutions to the major issues facing the nation.
Well, thanks to a January 8, 2013 Huffington Post article, it is pretty obvious why they have not resolved any major issue: they really are not working on them, being far more concerned with raising money for their next election and their political party. Details from the article include the following disgraces:
The writers of the Huffington Post article got hold of a presentation that was given to freshmen Congressmen and women by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The presentation outlined how a typical member of Congress should spend their days when actually in Washington.
This prototype daily schedule laid out by the Democratic leadership expects a nine or 10-hour day while in Washington, of which four hours are to be spent in “call time“ (i.e. calling people in order to get them make a political campaign donation.)
Another hour is supposed to be dedicated to “strategic outreach,” which includes fundraisers and press work (i.e. more fundraising time and effort.)
Another hour is to be blocked off for “recharge.”
And finally, three to four hours a day are to be used for the actual work of being a member of Congress — hearings, votes, and meetings with constituents.
So, not only do members of Congress not do a lot of real work (i.e. solving problems); there is an actual formal process that discourages that type of problem-solving behavior in favor of raising money to keep incumbents in office. No wonder nothing ever gets resolved, real budgets never develop, or fraud and waste is never wrung out of government operations; the political class is off taking care of themselves and their political careers.
Let’s do some simple math:
The average American works about 250 days a year, five days a week for 50 weeks.
Congress will be in session about 115 days this year. Let’s assume that they will work another 25 days a year back in their home state or Congressional district, giving them a work year of 140 days.
Thus, relative to the average American, Congressional members work only 64% as long (140/250).
During the average workday, the average American works about 8 hours a day.
During an average workday, we now know from the Huffington Post that the average Congressional member only works about four hours a day on real work.
Thus, the average politician works half as hard on real work than the average American (4 hours a day/8 hours a day).
Since a member of Congress earns about $170,000 a year, given their work load and what we now know they spend their time on, their annual pay should be reduced to:
$54,400 = $170,000 X .64 (ratio of working days) X .5 (ratio of working hours per day)
This would be a truer measure of their value, not $170,000. And at $54,400, given their poor productivity, they still might be overpaid.
Consider some quotes from the article that prove how ludicrous and shameful this behavior is:
“You might as well be putting bamboo shoots under my fingernails. It’s the most painful thing, and they’re no sooner elected and they’re down there making phone calls for the election in 2014,” said Congressman John Larson.
“It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising. You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically. It’s a fairly disturbing suggested schedule. You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote,” said former Congressman Brad Miller.
“One thing that’s always been striking to me is even the members playing a leading role on specific issues actually could not talk about the issues. They didn’t have enough knowledge on their own issues to talk about them at length. I’m probably guilty of that,” said a current member of Congress who wished to remain anonymous.
So we end up with distracted members of Congress, members who do not ask the tough questions or make the tough calls because it could affect fundraising; and we have members of Congress who do not know the details and ramifications of what they are voting on and sponsoring. No wonder nothing ever gets resolved.
This behavior cries out for term limits on all elected officials. If these members of Congress knew that they could not run for office for a second term, they might focus more on doing the right thing and not hitting up the right political donor. How much worse could it get with term limits compared to the current process laid out in the Huffington Post article?
With term limits, which would remove “incumbent” from our political vocabulary, we might finally get back to representative government that is for the people and by the people as opposed to the current government.
Photo credit: Jessie Owen (Creative Commons)