Congressional Cuts — Part 2 of 3: Reduced Hours
Being a Congressperson is supposed to be a part-time job, so let’s force it back to being one!
- Having a part-time legislature is very common in the United States and is what the founders envisioned for Congress.
- Limiting the days, hours per day, and times that Congress can meet will force our representatives to be efficient.
- Part-time legislatures have exponentially less costs than full-time ones because the latter feel they must always justify their existence.
In the last issue, we reduced the wages and non-monetary compensation for all Congresspeople, putting it more in line with what the type of take-home pay the original members of Congress received.
Part Timers — Part 2
All of this is taking members of Congress away from having a full-time job in the official seat of government. It was never the intent of the Founders that members of Congress would be full-time legislators and with the proper scheduling and technology use at home they should not have to be. Instead, it is time to align them to the position as originally conceived: a part-time, citizen legislator.
As a matter of fact, making a legislature be a part-time job is not uncommon in our country at all. Among the States, 14 explicitly make their legislatures be part-time and another 26 have a system that makes it so legislators cannot earn a full income in their government jobs. In other words, only 20% of States have in place laws or Constitutions that make their Legislative Branch a full-time position.
When that does happen, the costs immediately skyrocket! In States where the legislature spends around half of their time working in the government the average compensation is about $19,000 per year. Yet even when not full-time, with an average time working in government of around 85%, compensation jumps to about $82,000 per year.
If you believe that only small and/or low population States would have part-time legislatures and that in the larger, more populous a State that more work would be required, the numbers do not completely line up. For instance, States large in area like Texas and Florida have a part-time legislature while on the other end Alaska, Wisconsin, and Hawaii are carrying full-time ones. There is not a direct correlation of any of those factors in how they function.
However, the more a legislature is in session, the more pressure it feels to pass bills or take on work so as not to feel like they are not wasting time. Need some proof of that? Well, you already got it in the Onion Ring definition law! You see that law and the many, many others are unable to be categorized because there are too many laws. This is a symptom of the issues of overcriminalization. Because Congress wants to make sure they do not look like they are doing nothing when they are in session — even if they have nothing to discuss — many of these minor, over-engineered laws get passed. We spend a great deal of time talking about Congressional gridlock, but there is plenty of speeding through legislation just because people are there.
Now that we understand the costs (both literally and figuratively) of having a full-time legislature, how do States with part-time legislatures approach this? Take a look at a couple of examples:
§006. Compensation of members; duration of sessions.
The legislature shall not meet for more than sixty (60) legislative working days excluding Sundays during the term for which members of the house of representatives are elected, except when called into special session. The legislature shall determine by statute the number of days not to exceed sixty (60) legislative working days to be devoted to general and budget session, respectively. The legislature shall meet on odd-numbered years for a general and budget session. The legislature may meet on even-numbered years for budget session. During the budget session no bills except the budget bill may be introduced unless placed on call by a two-thirds vote of either house. The legislature shall meet for no more than forty (40) legislative working days excluding Sundays in any (1) calendar year, except when called into special session. The compensation of the members of the legislature shall be as provided by law; but no legislature shall fix its own compensation.
Wyoming is rather strict in its language and specifically controls not only how many days, but what must happen in those days. That may be a little too rigid for an entire country, but gives an idea of how to control the total working days. Remember that we have previously set up an Amendment to make Congress work within a certain timeframe of their own volition, so now we are looking to limit what is their available timeframe at all. As such, Wyoming’s Constitution may provide some guidance on how to do that.
Section 10. Annual regular sessions of the Legislative Assembly; organizational session; extension of regular sessions.
(1) The Legislative Assembly shall hold annual sessions at the Capitol of the State. Each session must begin on the day designated by law as the first day of the session. Except as provided in subsection (3) of this section:
(a) A session beginning in an odd-numbered year may not exceed 160 calendar days in duration; and
(b) A session beginning in an even-numbered year may not exceed 35 calendar days in duration.
(2) The Legislative Assembly may hold an organizational session that is not subject to the limits of subsection (1) of this section for the purposes of introducing measures and performing the duties and effecting the organization described in sections 11 and 12 of this Article. The Legislative Assembly may not undertake final consideration of a measure or reconsideration of a measure following a gubernatorial veto when convened in an organizational session.
(3) A regular session, as described in subsection (1) of this section, may be extended for a period of five calendar days by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of each house. A session may be extended more than once. An extension must begin on the first calendar day after the end of the immediately preceding session or extension except that if the first calendar day is a Sunday, the extension may begin on the next Monday.
Similar to Wyoming, Oregon also gets into not only the number of days, but the different number of days in varying years along with specific limitations on the number of days in a row. This may be helpful as well in order to limit the amount of time Congress can spend together in session.
Taking lessons from these two Constitutions and others, we can now apply it to our federal one:
By Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 6, Clause 3 shall be added.
Both the House of Representatives and Senate shall be limited in the number of days they may meet per legislative year and the number of hours they shall meet in any single day. While either chamber of Congress is in session, each shall meet no more than three days per calendar week. All sessions must begin after seven o’clock in the morning and must end before ten o’clock in the evening at the Seat of Government. Furthermore, each session shall last no longer than six hours. Additional days and times may only be granted if an emergency is declared by the President of the United States.
Before diving into this, let us do a little math. There are roughly 260 working days in any given year, give or take the particular rules of a company and when holidays falls. At 8 hours per day, that is 2,080 working hours, which is fairly typical. Now, there are 52 weeks in a year, so if we say that Congress can only meet 3 days per week, at maximum we are talking about 156 days, which would be 60% of the total number of working days. However, at 6 hours per day, that comes out to 936 hours or 45% of a working week. And just to wrap in the last section, at $17.76, Congress would receive a maximum pay of $16,623 in a year (not including the other perks and covered costs).
It is fair to note that there are other Living Wage rates that could be used, as well, since we have been focusing on the “Single Adult” rate. There are higher rates if thinking about one adult with children, two adults with one working, two adults with both working, and two adults working with children. The average of these various rates is $26.54 per hour, so if we went with that one it would be $24,841, which is still quite in the reasonable part-time range. At the end of the day, it would be up to Congress to pass what is the definition of a Living Wage to use, so they would still have some control over their pay scales. Much later in this document, we will give a definition for Living Wage in the law that still allows some Congressional control.
For now, the limits to keep Congress part-time include not just the number of days per week and the number of hours they can work per session, but also the times in which they can work. As discussed previously, one of the main legislative tools used is simply wearing people out by keeping sessions going. Also, because Congress does not have fixed days and times they must adhere to, legislation can often go to the last minute and beyond. In other words, there are no pressures to get anything done because there are no limits to the amount of time Congress can be forced in session. By giving parameters and limiting how often and how long Congress can get together, it will force them to use their time properly, prioritize, vote, and move on to the next. Some Congresspeople seem to take pride and brag about working on legislation until 3:00 a.m. when they should feel ashamed for procrastinating and not being able to accomplish their work in acceptable timeframes.
As an aside, the Constitution was written before there were time-zones or even the idea of standardized times. It would take the invention of the train for people to realize they needed standard clocks so that trains would not run into each other (several did) and people would know when a train was coming. Before then, all time was relative and local. The management of clocks and time is a concept that the founders could not have foreseen and as such is an example of technology that is old to us yet is revolutionary in terms of the Constitution being able to recognize it.
Despite all this, Congress would still have a lot of leeway as the Constitution already gives Congress the ability to decide when it is in session and we added Clauses so that Congress is in charge of creating their own schedule. More so — without the need to be in Washington, D.C. — Congress has a lot of opportunity to schedule meetings for “standard off-hours” so Congresspeople can just take the session from home. Right now, Congress takes the entire month of August off as well as plenty of other one, two, and three week stretches. With the remote ability and scheduling control, Congress would have the ability to meet more regularly. Again, though, all of that would be up to each chamber to decide what works best. All they would have to do is stay within the limitations of their timetable.
And let us not forget all of Section 11 that forces legislation to be scheduled, debated, voted on, and moved through the chambers. Congress would not even have the luxury of dallying under penalty of treason, so again this is a forced method of limiting bureaucracy. No matter the situation, the methodology and decisions would still rest within the legislature.
Beyond the direct costs and times of the Congresspeople themselves, there is one other item that comes from being a full-time worker, and that is the apparent need for an oversized staff on the government payroll.
Going back to our States examples, the States with legislators working 85% of the time or more see staff numbers on average (not even on peak, but on average) of around 1,250. For those working half time, staff size is around 160 on average. We are talking a nearly 8 times difference just from working an additional half time. If support staff were exactly in line with hours legislators work, then doubling part-time work to full-time should just double the staff needs (around 320), yet an exponential relationship is seen instead. Or another way to look at it is that in the part-time States there are 1.2 staff per legislator and in the full-time States there are 8.9 staff per legislator. Why is that?
As noted above, since a legislature feels pressure to do work when they are in session all the time, then they need more staff in order to pull that off. These staff people are gathering information, doing analysis, crafting policy and actual bills, and doing much of the labor required because excess workload has been created. It is a chicken-and-the-egg situation, except we know that there is more work for staff because legislators are making more work for themselves by feeling their time needs to be productive.
Meanwhile, the actual Congresspeople spend significant amounts of their time doing non-government activities (mostly fundraising). As such, they need to further offload their work on to others. Congresspeople should be doing all of their own work and research (or at least using Executive Agencies to bring research and analysis to them, but more on that later) and employees of the legislature should be limited to the operational functions needed to run Congress and not personally work for individual legislators on the government dime. Afterall, the legislators were the ones elected to do the work. Why should they be allowed to outsource their workload to an unelected person?
By Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 6, Clause 4 shall be added.
Congress may appropriate funds for a staff to cover the organizational and functional needs of Congress. Organizational and functional staff shall be shared by all members of Congress equally. Congress may not appropriate funds for staff assigned to individual members of Congress or groups of members of Congress. No staff member of the Government of the United States may be assigned to a single Representative or Senator or any group of Representatives or Senators.
After the Civil War, the idea of staff was slowly added to Congress, where before then there were no staff to speak of and Congresspeople were responsible for their own way. By the year 2000 and up to at least 2019 there were about 24,000 people working for Congress, of which most (about 12,000) work in the personal staff of a Congressperson. There are specific limits as to how many people can be hired and into what type of positions, but those were all created by laws Congress passed itself. How much money each member gets is also set by a Congressional appropriations committee. So basically, aside from a Presidential override of the entire budget, Congress has complete control over how much staff and money they assign themselves.
Now, there is a need for a support staff. Someone needs to keep the building clean, turn the lights on, run the IT infrastructure, prepare materials, and do all the functions that would make any business run. There is a need for government employees to do the jobs that help everything flow as normal. There are also people that theoretically work for Congress but act in more executive roles like the Government Accountability Office. Even beyond all this, the Capital Police also officially work for Congress. Altogether, this is not to say that there should not be anyone working for Congress, only that Congresspeople should not have personal staff to do their personal bidding.
The person who should be responsible for the individual activities of the legislator is the legislator himself. This would also remove the temptation (re: real issue) of using support staff for activities outside of running a legislative session (i.e., having staff doing fundraising activity while taxpayers cover the costs despite the lowly enforced Hatch Act). The only assistance congresspeople need is to make sure they can attend a legislative session. That is the role of the support staff, and this Amendment will help make sure it is nothing more.
One of the other ways that staff have been hired is for committees. Committees are not part of the Constitution and are just made up by Congress for its own process purposes. But because Congress created the committee, they can currently hire people to just serve roles on the committee, again giving power to non-elected officials with very little oversight of their pay or ethics. This amendment also shuts down that process by not allowing employees to serve “groups” of Congresspeople either. At the end of the day, the staff are just there to make sure the Congresspeople can do their jobs, and the Congresspeople cannot parse their jobs or special benefits to others at the expense of the taxpayers.
TO BE CONTINUED…