Congress Should Return to a Five-Day Work Week

The new Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives has announced that members should expect to work a five-day week.

How novel. No more get in town Tuesday night and leave on Thursday afternoon.

Ironically, this has been met by howls of protest from some of the younger Republican members who claim that the Democrats are not being “family friendly,” since their families are back in their home districts.

I have several responses to this.

First, if these younger Republican members are so worried about spending time with their families back home, they shouldn’t have run for a job that takes them to Washington, D.C. They should have run for their local city council or county commissioners court.

Second, if they are really worried about spending time with the spouse and children, move their families to Washington the way members did when I was first elected to Congress in 1978.

Twenty-eight years ago, when I began my Congressional career, the House went to work on Monday afternoons and stayed until some time on Friday. We put in a full workweek.

There are great advantages to a five-day schedule. Committees actually have time to meet and hold oversight hearings into the way the executive branch is carrying out various programs passed by Congress. If Congress had been here five days a week during the past few years, maybe Congress could have held a series of hearings on no-bid reconstruction contracts in Iraq and the training of Iraqi police and military.

Additionally, maybe Congress could have held detailed hearings on the implementation of “No Child Left Behind,” legislation that is up for renewal next year and is very unpopular with many parents and among professional educators across the land.

And maybe Congress could have really gotten to the bottom of why FEMA was not better prepared to handle the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The list goes on and on.

Additionally, if Congress is in session five days a week, it will be easier for Congressional committees to have the necessary time to debate and write new legislation rather than having major legislative initiatives, like the prescription drug plan under Medicare, written in the Speaker’s office.

Maybe Congress would have more time for consideration of major bills on the floor under open rules permitting a series of amendments offered by both the minority and dissenting members of the majority.

Maybe Congress would be able to work its will under “regular order” rather than limiting the rights of members to make changes to legislation in a deliberative way.

When I took the oath of office for the first time in January of 1979, I moved my family from Texas to the Virginia suburbs just outside of the District of Columbia. My three daughters all attended public schools in Arlington, Va., where they received an excellent education. The exposure to the East Coast didn’t cause them to lose contact with their Texas roots. Two of the three are now married and live in Texas (one in El Paso and one in Ft. Worth).

Having my children nearby meant that I was able to do my Congressional work and attend athletic events, band performances and award programs at school. Two of my daughters played instruments in the high school band and I attended many Friday night football games just to see the half-time show. One of my daughters ran track. I saw her compete in the high jump and sprint relays. Another daughter played the cello in the high school orchestra and I saw a performance of the Wizard of Oz with my daughter in the pit orchestra and our family dog, Cisco, playing the role of Toto.

This was all possible because I spent two weekends each month with my family in Virginia and two weekends a month in my home district in Texas. Congressional sessions were routinely over by 6:30 at night, rather than running into the wee hours as has happened in recent years because of the short workweek.

I never understood why the Republican leadership shortened the workweek to two days when they took over in 1995. It was a disservice to the membership and to the legislative process.

Let’s hope that the new Democratic leadership sticks to its commitment for a full workweek. The country will be better off because of it and maybe some sanity can return to the lives of elected officials.

Most Americans are on the job at least five days a week, if not more. Any Member of Congress who doesn’t want to spend five days a week on the job in Washington, D.C., should go into a different line of work.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Welte and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

Respond to the Writer