'Do-Nothing Congress' Raises Critics' Ire

Ornstein and other critics also believe the government's failure to deal efficiently with Katrina can be blamed partly on congressional haste in setting up the new Department of Homeland Security, which had overall responsibility for disaster relief.

"When I go back home to the Rotary Club and tell them we're meeting so few days, sometimes they think that's good news," said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. "But it's really bad news for America because we're simply not doing our jobs. They're paying us full salaries, but we're not working full time."

Many in Congress point out that they do some work when they go back home -- they meet with constituents and learn what the voters really want. But as money has become more important in election campaigns, many House members and senators also spend a great deal of time in their states raising funds for re-election.

Nothing 'Worth a Toot'

Congress has accomplished some things this year, perhaps most notably this week passing tax cut legislation. But all in all, this has not been a productive year, leading to Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott's recent comment, "We haven't done anything worth a toot in three months."

Because Congress spends less time in Washington, members spend less time with one another. Gone are the days when members from rival parties and factions had plenty of time to socialize together, perhaps in the evening to partake of a little "bourbon and branch water." Those informal get-togethers were often crucial to reaching compromises on important, sometimes historic legislation.

This Congress can still avoid the "do-nothing" label. But it has precious little time to do it. An immigration bill is a top priority for President Bush and many on Capitol Hill.

The trouble is finding a compromise that can pass both houses and get the president's signature. That is a time-consuming process, but so far Congress is sticking pretty much to its three-day-a-week routine. And Congress does not want to deal with complicated legislation this fall because this is an election year.

Green said voters will be watching. "They would like to see our work product improved," he said, "and if that includes an extra day a week, so be it."

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