By Joselyn King
Sen. Joe Manchin wonders whether Congress might be more productive if it had a five-day work week.
Members of the House and Senate typically spend three days in Washington each week when Congress is in session before returning to their home districts for the weekend.
"We spend more time traveling than we do working," Manchin said.
Manchin, D-W.Va., suggested Tuesday members might get more accomplished if the congressional calendar were changed so they stayed and worked for three weeks straight in Washington before returning to their home district for a week to address constituent concerns.
"Do you think (constituents) would accept that?" Manchin asked during a conference call with West Virginia reporters Tuesday. "The way it is now, I try to come home on Thursday night or Friday to be in some part of my state so I can keep in contact. Then I come back on Monday evening.
His staffers "try to schedule things within those confines, but you never know - sometimes you might have a vote on Friday and they've scheduled something and I can't go."
He also questions why the House and Senate can't synchronize their calendars so both chambers are in session at the same time. Manchin noted that while the Senate is off this week, the House is in session working on legislation.
"Does that make any sense at all?" he asked.
Manchin added the Senate's rules regarding the filibuster also are slowing down workings in the chamber. These rules permit unlimited debate on an issue unless 60 percent of members present - usually 60 of the 100 members - vote to invoke cloture and stop discussion. Typically, the minority party uses the filibuster to block bills and keep them from coming to vote on the floor.
During the recent 112th Congress, Senate members used the threat of filibuster to block even procedural votes and routine judicial appointments, a process that brings the Senate "to an absolute halt," Manchin said.
"On (the Republican) side of the aisle, they say '(Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) sets the agenda for the calendar - he fills the trees so that any bill coming before us ... we don't get any amendments,'" Manchin continued. "I understand their frustration. The Senate works through an amendment process, and the Senate has always worked in an open amendment process. They might say that slows it down. It can't get any slower than it already is."
He said he is willing to compromise and vote to change the rules so that Senate members could not filibuster procedural votes, and that appointments must be voted on in 90 days.
The appointments of judges also should have to come to vote on the Senate floor if they were approved by a majority on the Judicial Committee, Manchin said.
"And with that - we have to give (the minority party) the amendment process," Manchin added. "Harry Reid cannot continue to shut them down on amendments."
"But in the spirit of Sen. Robert Byrd ... I would not budget off of the 60-vote rule. The rule gives the minority a tremendous amount of input so the majority cannot rule - just a simple majority. That's the way the Senate is supposed to work."
Manchin was joined on Tuesday's conference call by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Manchin and Huntsman serve as co-chairman of No Labels, a group seeking to build bipartisan cooperation among members.
Currently, No Labels boasts about 35 members, but Huntsman said it is realistic the number could rise to 80 by the end of 2013.
"If we had 70 to 80 problem solvers, how would the debate shift?" Huntsman said. "It would change the dynamic in Congress. When you don't have problem solvers involved, the system falls victim to extreme voices failing to compromise."