WASHINGTON – It's only the first week of the 110th Congress, but Democrats have already called a time-out so lawmakers can enjoy a very important event — the BCS championship football game between University of Florida and the Ohio State University.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Friday handed out this week's schedule. It noted that House legislative actions would not begin on Monday, but would be postponed until Tuesday.
Though the schedule does not offer an explanation for the delay, Hoyer, D-Md., said on the House floor that he wanted to let lawmakers from the big states of Ohio and Florida off, presumably so they could attend the game or participate in game-related activities at home.
"There is a very important event happening Monday night, particularly for those who live
in Ohio and Florida. In the spirit of comity, and I know if Maryland were playing, I would want to be accommodated and I want to accommodate my friend, Mr. Boehner," Hoyer said in reference to new House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
While the decision benefits both Democratic and Republican football fans, it signals a step back from the reform-minded pledge Democrats took after they won control of Congress to work a five-day week in Washington, up from three-day weeks during the Republican Congress.
Hoyer said despite the decision this week, he intends to make a five-day work week, or as close to it, standard operating procedure.
"The practice, as you know, will be that we will come in at 6:30 on Mondays and adjourn no later than 2 p.m. on the day of adjournment. Many times that will be Friday, sometimes it will be Thursday. We understand the need for members to get out. If it is on Thursday, the expectation is we may go a little later than that, but that will be generally the practice we will try to pursue," Hoyer said on the floor.
However, the four-day work week will also be extended to the following week because Monday, Jan. 15, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday.
Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, which works against corruption in Congress, said Hoyer's comments suggesting future shifts in schedule are "disappointing" but he did not get the impression that the only reason for this week's delay is the football game.
"There is an awful lot of talk in there about accommodating West Coast members as well, and it is the first Monday and comity may refer to it being the first Monday," he said.
Ruskin added that whatever the reason, "We think members of Congress are paid to do a job and they ought to do it."
The decision to start the first full week of work late also pushes back the clock on the first 100-hours agenda, which is the Democrats' plan to get domestic priorities such as a minimum wage hike; implementation of all the Sept. 11 commission recommendations; new negotiations on Medicare prescription drug prices; new interest rates on government loans to make college more affordable; expansions of stem cell research and an end to subsidies for oil companies and investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
But David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said he was just fine with the false start.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and leading Democrats decided to start the clock after last week's opening activities, saying procedural requirements and rules changes were not part of the legislative agenda.