Congress is taking a vacation next week — on the eve of what’s been called the biggest potential fiscal disaster to hit the nation in decades, when massive, across-the-board budget cuts begin wreaking havoc on the Pentagon and all other federal agencies.
Talk about whistling past the graveyard.
The sequestration ax adds big drama to this particular hiatus. But it’s hardly unusual for House and Senate lawmakers; the congressional work schedule has withered on the vine for years.
At this writing, there have been 32 regular “workdays” so far this year — Monday through Friday, federal holidays excluded.
The House has been in session 18 of those days, the Senate 14. That means the House was on the job only 56 percent of the time; the Senate, just 44 percent.
Even when Congress is in session, the Capitol Hill work week is abbreviated, often running from Tuesday afternoon to Thursday afternoon, and omitting Mondays and Fridays.
Lawmakers would quickly point out that they spend much of the rest of their time tending to their constituencies back home.
But in truth, most of the time lawmakers spend away from the Capitol is consumed by the neverending pressure of raising cash for the next election campaign.
Rep. Dick Nolan, D-Minn., who left Congress in 1981 and was recently re-elected after a 32-year hiatus, noted that in his first stint, Congress was in session 48 out of 52 weeks. Today, he said, it’s just 32 out of 52 weeks.
Even in calm times, such a soft schedule would be sufficient to enrage the average blue-collar Joe. But blithely skipping town for a week on the cusp of fiscal implosion is simply abominable.
It’s tempting to say Congress should be ashamed. But that would assume Congress is still capable of feeling shame.