As if Congress’s unprecedented level of dysfunction wasn’t bad enough on its own, there’s an added insult to the public they’re failing to serve: as you’ve deduced from the title, our representatives are off for two-thirds of the year, exponentially more than the average American. Again, this is despite the fact that their already-minimal time working is essentially wasted, as a sobering article and graph from PolicyMic shows:
But what remains most astonishing about our representatives on the Hill is not only the quantity of legislation, but the amount of time spent working. The Congressional calendar for this coming year consists of 126 days, leaving members of Congress 239 days to perhaps tour our great nation, toy with the idea of running for higher office, and maybe visit a natural disaster or two. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s calendar releases rather embarrassing scheduling without a single 5-day work week or weekend. If you are already feeling riled up about this, I would not suggest looking at the month of August.
So, how? How can hard-working Americans, residents of one of the most overworked countries in the world, commute five times a week to and from work while their money is squandered away in one of the two or three weekly meetings Congress manages in squeeze in?
The juxtaposition between our political elites — our so-called public servants — and the largely struggling American people could not be clearer. This is the same political body whose individual members are far wealthier than most of their constituents, to say nothing of its lack of diversity (the average Congressman, in both the House and Senate, is an older white male with a background in law).
Believe it or not, it gets worse:
Apparently, these weeks off are called “District work periods,” also known as free travel at taxpayer expense.
Even Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) admits the wrongdoing of his colleagues: “I think we’d get more work done if we spent more time in Washington. We come in, we go straight to votes, and then we go to our separate quarters. We don’t really get to know each other anymore.”
But Cantor disagrees in publishing a schedule with many long breaks allowing for travel and “district work periods.”
This isn’t the beginning. This unabashed congressional laziness has run rampant over the past decade and is only inflating. In 2007, Fox News reported expensive monthly trips taken by members of Congress to far-off lands on whose dime? Oh yes, that’s right. I think I’m starting to understand her point.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and his wife are particularly cultured because of his spot on the Hill. He and his wife frequent Aspen Institute conferences, along with many other members of Congress. The Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue, has covered the costs of sending members of Congress to their seminars and workshops in the past. From 2000-2007, the Miller couple has attended 30 conferences with a total value of over $200,000. But that is not the kicker. Rep. George Miller, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman, did not even have a place at these conferences. Only 3 of the 30 conferences he has attended were related to education. And don’t let the name fool you: The Aspen Institute certainly does not hold conferences in Aspen only. Mr. and Mrs. Miller have traveled to Aspen conferences in:
Naples, Florida, San Juan, Vancouver, Prague, Grand Cayman, Florence, Helsinki, Punta Mita, Mexico, Scottsdale, China, Barcelona, Montega Bay, Jamaica, Rome, Cancun, Venice, Dublin, Istanbul, and Hawaii.
Not only do these luxurious conferences take place across the globe, but they also ended up consuming about half a year in total, or 10% of every year.
The gap between the political class and the American public couldn’t be wider, both materially and experientially. The same body that can’t even come together with a viable plan to fix our still-ailing economy have no qualms using (and abusing) the ample perks that come with their job — premium healthcare, pensions, and, of course, vacation time. Were it not so dysfunctional, and were not so many Americans increasingly struggling without such luxuries, I’d be less disgusted.
(Note, I know that this doesn’t apply to every Congressperson).