Short Congressional Work Weeks Become the Norm

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Friday, 02 May 2014 11:16 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Senators haven't stuck around to conduct real business or vote on a Friday since the end of December, with most of them often leaving by Thursday afternoon — but not all lawmakers are happy with having the unofficial three-day weekends, Politico reported.

Senators last had a Friday roll call vote on Dec. 20, according to the political news website, when they voted to break a filibuster on Janet Yellen's Federal Reserve nomination. Before that, the partial government shutdown in October meant lawmakers were working on Fridays and weekends.

Since then, there's only been one time senators almost had to work on a Friday. In April, a deal on Thursday votes fell through, almost forcing them to stay and vote on a Friday and sparking a debate between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over how the chamber was being run.

Since there was no agreement over voting on Thursday, Reid canceled the Friday roll call because of concerns that the lack of attendance would be embarrassing.

Some senators from both sides, however, say the workweek should not be so short.

"It's amazing how people's zeal seems to vaporize when Friday rolls around," said  Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, according to Politico.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he'll work on weekends, and believes senators "should be here on Friday, doing the work here Friday and then try to get to know each other."

The short workweeks haven't just been happening lately. Last August, a CNN analysis  showed Congress has spent less time on Capitol Hill in 2013 than in any of the preceding five years.

The analysis showed that the issue wasn't only in the Senate, but in the House, where members were in Washington for 56 percent of all nonholiday weekdays, or less than three days a week. Senators were present for 61 percent of weekdays.

The analysis showed that the Senate did not have a single five-day workweek for the first seven months of 2013, while the House had two full weeks.

McCain and other older senators often remember the Senate's earlier years when former majority leaders such as Robert Byrd and Bob Dole would insist the chamber finish a bill in a week and keep senators in session until the legislation was complete, Politico said.

"There used to be the Thursday night deadline and people I guess would leave on Friday morning or Friday afternoon," Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker told Politico. "As I understand it, that caused people to come together and realize maybe the important amendment they wanted to offer, maybe it wasn't that important."

Fridays aren't the only days senators often take off. Normally, they're not returning to Washington until after business hours on Monday, and after they work for full days on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they tend to wrap up by mid-afternoon Thursday before postponing work until the following week.

But some senators defend having Fridays off in Washington, including Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill.

"The only day we have to visit businesses and schools is Friday," she told Politico. "If you are in session from the beginning of the day Monday until the end of the day Friday, you really remove one of the most important parts of our work. And that is listening to how what we're doing is impacting people back at home."

But Republicans say they will reinstate the five-day workweek if they take control of the Senate, and Minority Leader McDonnell thinks a five-day schedule will force consensus among senators. But Democrats say McConnell also hasn't been on the floor when the Senate opens session on Mondays at 2 p.m. since February.

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