The Busy Bees of Capitol Hill

As anyone who has worked in pretty much any job knows, "working" and "getting things done" are most assuredly not the same thing. Take Congress, for instance. These days, do they get things done? No, not if by getting things done you mean passing laws, which is ostensibly their job. Now it's true that members of Congress do other things—they conduct investigations, they help constituents track down errant Social Security checks, and so on—but they're lawmakers first and foremost, and we've seen few Congresses that have done less in the law-passing department than this one.

What's strange, though, is that this inability to pass laws is often transmuted into the idea that members of Congress are lazy. I was glad to see Alex Seitz-Wald point this out today, because it's bothered me for a long time:

When the House releases its calendar for the upcoming year, as it did for 2014 a few weeks ago, it inevitably elicits headlines like this: "Congress Working Less Than 1/3 of Year in 2014, Getting Full Salary." One blog offered a faux recruiting pitch: "Want a job with 239 vacation days? Become a member of Congress." Another was more blunt, calling Congress the "laziest sacks in history of being lazy sacks."

But you might want to think twice before running for Congress in the hopes of getting a cushy desk job. According to a survey by the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit that for the past 35 years has worked as a sort of consultancy for lawmakers, members of Congress work on average 70 hours a week when they're in town and almost 60 hours a week when they're not.

Politicians come in all flavors—the committed and the cynical, the compassionate and the cruel—but I've never encountered a lazy one. You might not think of meeting constituents down at the senior center and raising money as work, but for them it is. The fundraising in particular, though it does nothing to benefit the public, is incredibly grueling and unpleasant. Almost everyone who decides to run for office, whether liberal or conservative, is driven and ambitious. So whatever else you're going to say about members of Congress as a strange and sometimes disturbing sub-species of homo sapiens, don't call them lazy.

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