Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Work-Family Balance in Congress

Today's most ha-larious political news (in the Washington Post, via Ezra Klein at TAPPED) involves the Republican reaction to incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's announcement that the House would eschew the previous late-Tuesday to mid-Thursday work week, and actually require Members to show up five days a week, much like the rest of the American work force.

A Republican House Member from my home state of Georgia supplied the Post with the richest comment: "'Keeping us up here eats away at families,' said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. 'Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says.'"

At the risk of taking this fatuous comment too seriously, I would note that the abbreviated work week might have worked fine for a Republican Congress that did very little, and where Members who weren't committee chairs or in the leadership had no particular role. But if Democrats truly want to ramp up the productivity of Congress, asking Members to spend at least half their time on the job doesn't seem terribly unreasonable.

More broadly, this idea that making Congress spend a fair amount of its time in the Capitol is "anti-marriage" or "anti-family," is, well, a bit counter-historical. Before the era of easy commercial air travel, most Members went to Washington for each session and stayed there, typically without their families, often living in boarding houses that served as extraordinarily important unofficial venues for bipartisan comity, legislative deal-cutting, and (at the frequent drink-fests) legendary debates and oratory. We are often told by conservatives that marriage and family were safe and supreme in those long-gone days; wonder how they survived those months of nuclear family meltdown?

As a lot of the Republican carping about Steny's announcement indicates, I suspect the real beef here isn't about denying Members family time, but denying them officially-paid campaign time. Here's a revolutionary thought: how's about making your and your party's actual accomplishments in Congress your key campaign talking points, instead of demanding that you get to go home for four days each week to Bigfoot it around your district?

Just wondering.
-- Posted at 1:53 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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