Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) has drafted an open letter to Congressman-elect Allen West responding to criticisms of the new 2011 congressional schedule.
Dear Congressman-elect West,
Congratulations on your recent election to the House of Representatives. The new House Republican majority, which you helped secure, has a historic opportunity to promote important reforms that will help place our country on the path to prosperity and freedom.
I recently read about your reaction to the changes to the congressional schedule set to take place this next Congress. As a member who has long advocated for a reform of the congressional schedule, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on the matter and explain why I am a strong supporter of incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor's 2011 schedule.
I am about to begin my fifth term in Congress. I can tell you based on my experience that the number of days Congress spends in Washington should not be correlated with the quality of work that is accomplished. I can also tell you that time spent in our districts is not "time off." To the contrary, I have found that the way Congress has operated the past few years has been a case study of ineffective time management that was both unproductive and, perhaps worst of all, insulated and even discouraged members from interacting with constituents. We all want government to do less, but that doesn't mean we need to be in Washington more.
For some time, Congress has operated on a Tuesday-Thursday work-week. This means the typical congressional schedule has members flying back and forth to Washington every week. Gratuitous votes occur late Monday evening and the week wraps up early Thursday afternoon. Most members try to catch a late Thursday or early Friday flight. In the typical week, many Congress members spend as much time in airports as they do meeting with constituents.
Under the new schedule, Members will be provided with a full work week back in their districts each month. Previously, the time available to be spent back in the district was both unpredictable and haphazard at best. Most often, Saturdays and Sundays have been the only days available to meet with constituents. This is not a sufficient amount of time to meet face to face with residents back home. The new calendar will also address the fact that for years Members of Congress took advantage of the unpredictable schedules as a way to hide from their constituents.
More time back in the districts will ensure greater accountability and give Members an opportunity to better understand the interests and priorities of their constituents, which in turn will allow them to make informed votes that represent those whom they are elected to represent.
It is incorrect to assume that Members of Congress are only working when voting. There is much more to effective representation than just voting in Washington. Continuous consumption of Potomac air does not produce the best legislative results. Members of Congress need time to see how our proposals impact real people living in our districts, and the best way to do this is by spending time with constituents. Staying connected with the world is impossible when we spend all our time in Washington.
This past year has shown that Members of Congress not only need more time to get input before a vote, but they also need more time to evaluate the results of their actions after each vote. Effective time in the district should be a priority -- not an afterthought.
Take for instance the week the Democrats' healthcare package was being considered. Speaker Pelosi intentionally held Members in Washington over the weekend with a final vote being taken on Sunday. No votes of substance took place between Friday and Sunday and our being here those days was truly a waste of time. The votes that kept us here in Washington were not essential to the operation of Congress nor did they do anything to address what was then, and currently, our number one priority - economic stability. The Speaker's scheduling was nothing more than a diversion that prevented Members from returning home to face constituents angry about the government takeover of healthcare. This was not representative democracy.
The Majority Leader-elect's new schedule was the result of many hours of careful and thoughtful analysis and planning. I know, because I was one of the earliest advocates of this type of proposal. It was created to ensure that the time Members spend in Washington was not unnecessarily nor frivolously wasted, but rather dedicated 100% to addressing the will of this nation. And unlike years past, the schedule will provide you and your constituents with a new and historic level of accessibility that will allow you to make informed decisions while in Washington.
Right now, the approval rating for Congress is an abysmal 13%. That can largely be attributed to the fact that the American people do not feel as though their voices are being heard. For the first time in many years, Members will have specifically scheduled weeks each month to interact with their constituents before returning to Washington. Members will no longer have an excuse not to meet with constituents. At the very time Americans are demanding a more accountable and responsive government, less interaction with constituents is the wrong approach. Politicians should not hide from constituents.
We need look no further than the current lame duck session to see that the number of congressional days in session should not be the barometer by which we measure our ability to advance the interests of the American people. Indeed, the more we are here, the more damage we seem to do. A structured and carefully crafted congressional schedule will eliminate the waste of taxpayers' time and money.
I applaud Congressman Cantor for adopting a congressional schedule that will require greater Member-constituent interaction and more direct Member involvement in legislating when in DC. Members need time to clearly understand constituent concerns and ascertain the effect of legislative proposals. This new schedule provides more quality time in Washington and the district -- and also cuts the cost of government travel in half.
The Majority Leader-elect deserves praise for his commitment to improve the day to day operation of Congress, which begins with making sure that Members' time in Washington is effective, while at the same time, ensuring that Members are unable to hide from their constituents.
I look forward to working with you in the 112th Congress. I would be happy to visit with you if you'd like to discuss congressional scheduling in further detail. Thanks for letting me share some thoughts.