Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Congress to Test Idle Hands Theory

Steny Hoyer has announced that the incoming Congress is going to work in Washington five days a week. No doubt, this will prove politically popular. The average voter clearly doesn't like the notion that elected officials could 'work' as few as 103 days in a two-year period and apparently accomplish so little.

I believe however, that the number of days spent in Washington is more or less irrelevant to judging whether Congress is successful or not. Sure, you have to have a minimum number of days to complete the necessary work, but it doesn't necessarily require 5 days per week. And if your goals are wrong, then additional days in Washington will only yield an inferior result. The incoming Congress is likely to use the additional time on more hearings, more intrusive legislation, more browbeating of bureaucrats into greater regulation, and probably (in the end) more spending. Who wants any of that?

I think this is a rare case where Captain Ed has it completely wrong. The outgoing Congress did not fail to complete its work because it did not spend enough time in Washington. The reason that appropriations work was not completed is that the spending levels in the legislation were too low to win majorities. Federal spending will be lower because the Congressional leadership did not yield. Would additional days in Washington have 'solved' that, and would it have done so in a way that conservatives approve of?

Furthermore, Congress does do work outside of Washington. Members of Congress need to go back to their districts from time to time. And while it sounds disingenuous, they need to travel to other places as well - be it elsewhere in the US, or abroad. The Hoyer work schedule is not likely to interfere with those goals, but it's still worth noting.

The Hoyer announcement is good politics, but its effect on policy will be somewhere between irrelevant and negative.

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