Congress Is Empty, Get Used to It

March 21, 2006 — -- The seats of Congress are empty this week, with the nation's lawmakers out of town for the St. Patrick's Day recess.

The empty seats are a sight that is becoming more common in the Capitol with Congress on track to set a modern-day record for the least amount of time in session. The House plans to be in Washington 97 days this year.

When the nation's representatives are not in the capital, they're not on vacation, but Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., says some more time in Congress would be useful.

"If Washington, D.C., is where the action is for lobbyists, it certainly ought to be where the action is for members of Congress," Lungren said.

The average American has worked more than 50 days in 2006, but, so far, the House has worked in Washington just 19 days, a total of 118 hours. The Senate is not far behind with 33 days at the Capitol.

"If we get much shorter, I mean, we're going to have a drive-through Congress," said Mary Boyle of Common Cause.

The House calendar is already set for the rest of the year. The representatives will meet for two weeks in April, a week in May and July, and all of August. Even a national newspaper points out that with fewer than 100 days scheduled, the House is on track to be in session less than what President Harry Truman called the "do-nothing" Congress of 1948.

Republican Rep. Jack Kingston defended the schedule while meeting with children in his Georgia school district on Monday.

"The work isn't all about Washington and voting," Kingston said. "We really have three jobs. One is voting in Washington. The other is getting out there on the streets. And the third job is one-on-one casework."

It's also an election year, and Republican leaders have made sure members can spend plenty of time talking to voters and maintain the Republican hold of the House majority.