By Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate and the author of “The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future” (2012). His new book is, “Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All” (2020, co-authored with Mark Green).Originally published at Common Dreams
Readers of the Washington Post this past Sunday, many of whom work at least a 40-hour week with short vacations, were informed by reporter Paul Kane about the large number of recess days the Senate and the House are taking this summer. In the midst of a huge backlog of critical legislation – as with the multi-trillion-dollar public and human infrastructure bills and other responsibilities deferred under prior periods of Republican control – these recess periods constitute reckless abandon and endangerment to the country.
Here are Mr. Kane’s words:
“When the Senate finishes up Thursday [June 24th, 2021], the chamber will shut down until July 12 for an unusually long Independence Day recess. After returning for four weeks, the Senate is supposed to break by Aug. 6 for more than four weeks of the beloved August recess. That’s a nearly 75-day run from late June through Labor Day in which current planning would have senators here voting about 16 days.”
“The original House schedule is even more impractical. When members of the House leave town July 1, they are slated to be in session just two of the next 11 weeks.”
“Yes, you read that right. From July 2 through Sept. 19, the House is only in session for nine days.”
It gets worse. As with other long absences throughout the year, all these recesses come with full pay and with bipartisan concurrence. But there is no agreement on Biden’s big-ticket legislative initiatives that should be dealt with, with meticulous detail to assure that whatever passes comes with rigorous oversight by adequate overseers for preventing waste, fraud, and abuse in the Executive Branch departments and agencies. That takes Congressional work.
Even when Congress is in session, Senators and Representatives usually work a three-day week – Tuesdays to Thursdays – with time to rush to nearby campaign offices and dial for campaign dollars.
Committee Chairs could hold hearings during these long recesses. But there are few legislators today like the workhorse Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, William Proxmire, who logged day after day of oversight hearings while his colleagues were on junkets overseas or at rich watering holes, compliments of business lobbyists.
The recklessly limited work time explains, in part, why the Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn’t force the Republicans to actually filibuster for all to see on national television their venomous, avaricious opposition to the pro-people, worker, consumer, patient, and children programs they have been blocking. All Senator “NO” Mitch McConnell, the Republicans self-styled “Grim Reaper,” does is communicate filibuster threats through the media to Schumer. The Democrats then cave into defeat because of few working days to push for an actual filibuster on the Senate floor.
These luxurious schedules are not set in stone. They were developed last December by the Democratic leadership; those same leaders can put all the 535 members of the Senate and the House to work. They also should deal with appropriations bills, and long-delayed nominees or forthcoming nominees by Biden to head agencies, and the lifting of the federal debt limit to avert a government shutdown, and more.
I think more of the 500 reporters covering Congress full time should do what Paul Kane has done and report these absurdly long AWOLs to the people back home. Editorials can urge people to collar their members of Congress and say:
Go back to work – five, six, or seven days if necessary to do your duties. Get serious lawmakers! You hold in trust the sovereign power of the American people. We have given you handsome pay, benefits, perks, services, staff, and a powerfully air-conditioned Capitol to perform your constitutional duties with due deliberation. You must not end up in frantic deadlines legislating with all the sloppy drafting, unintended consequences, and loopholes for greedy commercial interests.
There is a neglected aspect of all this absenteeism for the Democrats agenda. Staying on the job could let Democrats draw vivid kitchen-table distinctions between them and the corporatist Wall Street over Main Street Republicans with their penchant for grossly under-taxing the super-rich and giant corporations at the expense of (1) middle-class taxpayers, and (2) programs of public services and the private necessity for the impoverished and other families in need through no fault of their own.
So, let’s get going Americans. Call your Senators and Representatives. The switchboard number (open 24/7) for Congress is 202-224-3121. The operators, who have to stay on the job, will steer you to your named Senators and Representatives. Tell your members of Congress to camp out on Capitol Hill. Tell them to earn their pay and respect the power given to them by the people.
Not sure which is worse: Congress not doing anything, or Congress doing things for the sake of doing things and making it all worse.
From what I’ve seen of what’s left of this infrastructure deal, it would be much better if they all stayed home. I’d rather cross the bridge for free and take my chances that it won’t collapse, rather than pay some private company $10 every time to cross it and still have to take my chances that it won’t collapse when they inevitably don’t fix it and pocket the cash.
“FOR PROFIT AMERICA” IS ON A COLISON WITH DISASTER!
@cocomaan: I had a similar thought, although in my mind it was phrased a little differently. Which is worse: Congress not doing anything, or Congress doing their owners’ bidding?
But then I realized that most Congress critters do their owners’ bidding wherever they are, whether in session, back in their districts, or off on junkets. So I guess it really doesn’t matter much where they are.
“Call your Senators and Representatives.” Nader is deranged. Unless you are a big donor, 98% of them aren’t yours. And never were. So yes, the last thing I want is them doing anything, unless it’s to change campaign financing to publicly funded only.
Congress taking the extra time in extra session to pass the private giveaway bidenbill is worse than not doing anything. Congress serves the country better by staying away and passing nothing until the bipartisan bidenbill is safely dead by delay.
We must remember that the members of congress are overwhelmingly elderly and so can’t be pushed. We have a bunch of people in their 80s, a whole lot in the 70s and in the Senate a large amount of people in their 60s. You put then to hard work and a lot of them are going to go down like skittles. These two links should tell you what the US has to deal with as far as governance is concerned-
“a lot of them are going to go down like skittles”
You say that like it’s a bad thingy;-)
Thanks for the links
The ancient ones need to go. If the work schedule is what does it, then all the better.
Who cares if Congress is in session? As long as The Squad has a Twitter account, they can tell me repeatedly how they are “fighting for me.”
Chuck Schumer virtue signalling at the NYC Pride parade yesterday.
Me (shouting, to Schumer): End the filibuster.
Schumer: Working on it.
Me: Get it done.
Me: There is no “try”, only “do”.
Schumer: … (marches on)
These days legislation is written by K-street. Congress can take a break and then rubber stamp what lobbyists give them.
In my day Congress took off the whole summer. Before AC that was mandatory; more recently it was “school is out we’re heading home to remember what the constituents look like”.
The timing of the emancipation proclamation during the civil war had nothing to do with the Union semi-victory at Antietam, it had to do with Congress going out of session and heading home so Lincoln could do it without facing a vote (exactly when did a Presidential proclaimation become the same as a law?).
The Supreme Court, since it never has to face an election, follows the old tradition- they are gone all summer and come back in early September.
Summer in DC is for tourists, cops, staffers and the newsmen. Only the humidity-loving need apply.
Lincoln issued the proclamation under his War Powers since the Constitution and Federal law such as
the Fugitive Slave Act made an amendment necessary to ban it. As such it only applied to states in rebellion,
but not slave states still in the Union.
The battle of Antietam was on Sept. 17 1862 so I don’t know if your chronology holds up, Congress should have been back, and it was heavily Republican anyway.
It used to be Congress session would wrap up after the appropriations were passed for the fiscal year beginning 1 July, the regular session would not convene again until the first Monday in December as required in the Constitution. In Presidential election years Congress would adjourn by the end of term in March, and typically after inauguration the Senate would convene for a few days for Executive Session (advise and consent on cabinet appointees). That’s why in 1861 Lincoln had to call a special session of Congress to meet 4 July 1861. It caused a bit of a scramble as before 1872 there was no “election day” for Congress — each state had their own system.
Help please – I’m getting into a ridiculous argument with someone online. I cited the comment above about Dem leadership being responsible for this laziness. They said it wasn’t Dem leadership. Certainly, the committee chairs could make people work, but I want to point to something specific and I cannot find it. Anyone have this handy, or know where to look? Thanks all!
This has been a pet issue for Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute. The politicians aren’t necessarily on vacation. They may be raising money/collecting bribes.
I did, long ago, stumble over our local MP at a public meeting dealing with some contentious local barney and raised, perhaps somewhat snarkily, the lengthy periods Parliament did not sit, and so require his attendance ‘at work’, in any year.
His response was he needed that time out of the cockpit in order to get his head around all the draft bills he was being to asked to vote on – which can be as opaque and slippery to actually comprehend as the small-print in a shyster’s contract – to actually read and critically understand at least some of the many reports submitted to Parliament in any term, and actually be present in his constituency to be available to meet and try to deal with constituent’s individual concerns and problems, and local ones like the one the subject of that meeting.
Now, whether he actually did any of those things I’ve no idea and I suspect many of the shysters leeching on the public purse don’t, or at most do so perfunctorily, but that is at least the theory behind the long breaks in Parliament’s calendar and at that level is justifiable. Whether it’s the same in the US I don’t know.