Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan stood behind a podium outside the Capitol and unveiled legislation that would make Congress do something radical: Stay in Washington five days a week.
Nolan first served in Congress from 1975 to 1981. More than three decades later, the Minnesota Democrat ran again — and won.
A lot has changed since then on Capitol Hill. For one, political pros now tell members of Congress they need to spend 30 hours a week raising money when they’re in Washington. Nolan says they never had to do that before — they were in Washington Monday through Friday.
Now, Nolan says, members breeze in for just three days, usually Tuesday through Thursday.
“With everybody flying in and flying out for three nights and a day and a half of work, I mean, it’s an absurdity,” he says.
There is no shortage of important business in Washington right now: Lawmakers are weighing what to do about the militant group known as Islamic State, how to keep the government funded come October 1 and whether to keep the Export-Import Bank up and running. And that doesn’t even count the other big stuff, like immigration or tax reform. It’s a lot to tackle in a short workweek.
But some members of Congress say those long weekends at home in their districts are necessary for holding meetings with constituents.
Deb Detmers, the district director for Congressman John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois, says sometimes, when she’s driving the congressman around the district, they listen to talk radio and roll their eyes.
“You’ll hear something on the radio about, you know, ‘these guys are the do-nothing Congress,’ or ‘they’re back home on vacation,’ and you picked him up at 6:30 that morning and it’s 7 o’clock at night,” she says.
Nolan says district work is important, but why not come to Washington for three weeks straight, then take a week in your district?
If Congress were a company with these types of conflicts, it would turn to someone like corporate efficiency expert Daniel Markovitz, president of Markovitz Consulting. Markotvitz says if Congress were his client, “I would throw up my hands in despair.”
But after he gets over the shock of imagining the government as a corporation, Markovitz has a recommendation: more face-to-face time for warring Republicans and Democrats.
“If I were running a business that had two factions — whether it’s the East Coast and the West Coast office — if I were trying to bridge a divide like that, I would think that face-to-face time is absolutely essential.”
Markovitz says maybe members of Congress could even socialize with each other.
Nolan says he did go camping and hunting with other representatives back in the day, but he doesn’t have anybody to hang out with now.
“You hear people say, ‘The members of Congress need to go out and have a pop or a beer together,'” he says. “Hell, we just need to come and work together, to start with.”
But you have to remember, the writers of Congress’ corporate charter — the constitution — didn’t want Congress to be efficient. They wanted Democracy to be messy and slow, with lots of debate — not exactly what a lean corporation needs.