By Ralph Nader
Open letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Leader Senator Chuck Schumer:
Readers of the Washington Post this past Sunday, many of whom work at least a 40-hour week with short vacations, were informed by reporter Paul Kane about the large number of recess days the Senate and the House are taking this summer. In the midst of a huge backlog of critical legislation – as with the multi-trillion-dollar public and human infrastructure bills and other responsibilities deferred under prior periods of Republican control – these recess periods constitute reckless abandon and endangerment to the country.
Here are Mr. Kane’s words:
“When the Senate finishes up Thursday [June 24th, 2021], the chamber will shut down until July 12 for an unusually long Independence Day recess. After returning for four weeks, the Senate is supposed to break by Aug. 6 for more than four weeks of the beloved August recess. That’s a nearly 75-day run from late June through Labor Day in which current planning would have senators here voting about 16 days.”
“The original House schedule is even more impractical. When members of the House leave town July 1, they are slated to be in session just two of the next 11 weeks.”
“Yes, you read that right. From July 2 through Sept. 19, the House is only in session for nine days.”
It gets worse. As with other long absences throughout the year, all these recesses come with full pay and with bipartisan concurrence. But there is no agreement on Biden’s big-ticket legislative initiatives that should be dealt with, with meticulous detail to assure that whatever passes comes with rigorous oversight by adequate overseers for preventing waste, fraud, and abuse in the Executive Branch departments and agencies. That takes Congressional work.
Even when Congress is in session, Senators and Representatives usually work a three-day week – Tuesdays to Thursdays – with time to rush to nearby campaign offices and dial for campaign dollars.
Committee Chairs could hold hearings during these long recesses. But there are few legislators today like the workhorse Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, William Proxmire, who logged day after day of oversight hearings while his colleagues were on junkets overseas or at rich watering holes, compliments of business lobbyists.
The recklessly limited work time explains, in part, why the Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn’t force the Republicans to actually filibuster for all to see on national television their venomous, avaricious opposition to the pro-people, worker, consumer, patient, and children programs they have been blocking. All Senator “NO” Mitch McConnell, the Republicans self-styled “Grim Reaper,” does is communicate filibuster threats through the media to Schumer. The Democrats then cave in to defeat because of few working days to push for an actual filibuster on the Senate floor.
These luxurious schedules are not set in stone. They were developed last December by the Democratic leadership; those same leaders can put all the 535 members of the Senate and the House to work. They also should deal with appropriations bills, and long-delayed nominees or forthcoming nominees by Biden to head agencies, and the lifting of the federal debt limit to avert a government shutdown, and more.
I think more of the 500 reporters covering Congress full time should do what Paul Kane has done and report these absurdly long AWOLs to the people back home. Editorials can urge people to collar their members of Congress and say:
Go back to work – five, six, or seven days if necessary to do your duties. Get serious lawmakers! You hold in trust the sovereign power of the American people. We have given you handsome pay, benefits, perks, services, staff, and a powerfully air-conditioned Capitol to perform your constitutional duties with due deliberation. You must not end up in frantic deadlines legislating with all the sloppy drafting, unintended consequences, and loopholes for greedy commercial interests.
There is a neglected aspect of all this absenteeism for the Democrats agenda. Staying on the job could let Democrats draw vivid kitchen-table distinctions between them and the corporatist Wall Street over Main Street Republicans with their penchant for grossly under-taxing the super-rich and giant corporations at the expense of (1) middle-class taxpayers, and (2) programs of public services and the private necessity for the impoverished and other families in need through no fault of their own.
So, let’s get going Americans. Call your Senators and Representatives. The switchboard number (open 24/7) for Congress is 202-224-3121. The operators, who have to stay on the job, will steer you to your named Senators and Representatives. Tell your members of Congress to camp out on Capitol Hill. Tell them to earn their pay and respect the power given to them by the people.