We know Congress isn't getting along. But that's no good reason to spend less time together.
The House's 2012 calendar is out, and it reflects some of the divisions the chamber is experiencing. Majority Leader Eric Canto has scheduled just 109 days in session, a schedule he said will make for a more streamlined legislative process while giving lawmakers the opportunity to spend time with their constituents. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer complained that the schedule is "more of the same." This year so far, the House has conducted legislative business for just 111 days, Hoyer noted, nearly equal to the 104 days spent in recess or in pro forma session.
Let's be clear: when the House is back home, they are not on vacation. Their work schedules in the district are sometimes more arduous than those they have in Washington, since lawmakers are expected to travel around their districts, speaking to a myriad of constituencies. They also have to raise campaign cash during these trips, a task that is becoming an increasingly larger part of their jobs.
Nor is Congress slacking off when they are not actually on the floors of the House and Senate. They have committee hearings, meetings with constituents, and (hopefully) negotiating sessions with fellow lawmakers.
But spending less time in Washington is not going to heal the divisions in Congress. In fact, it's likely to get worse. Especially in the House, with its 435 members, personal relationships are critical to achieving compromise. Lawmakers who barely see each other will never get past the party-identification barrier.
Further, the calendar (like this year's) is out of synch with the Senate calendar. The two chambers take week-long recesses at different times, making it harder for the House and Senate to reach the compromises necessary to pass legislation.
The 2012 calendar is campaign-friendly, however. After October 5, members are free until after the 2012 elections, giving them the time to keep their jobs, but not actually do their jobs. The new calendar is indeed more efficient, as Cantor contends. But it's an efficient metaphor for what has gone wrong with Congress.