Washington Sketch by Dana Milbank

Congress Has So Little to Do, And So Much Time to Do It

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Is there no rest for the weary lawmaker?

"Members Resist Five-Day Workweek," one of the Capitol Hill newspapers proclaimed on its front page yesterday. Senators were "ready to revolt" and House members were "simmering" over their legislative demands.

The poor dears.

Consider yesterday's schedule for the people's representatives. Not only did they have to pass H.R. 99, "commending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln volleyball team," but they had to do it immediately after passing H.R. 72, celebrating the achievements of meteorologist Max Mayfield. Then it was on to legislation in support of the African American spiritual, remembering a deceased NASCAR driver, naming a courthouse in Duluth, Minn., and honoring the grandfather of two congressmen.

That left time for a full debate over the day's signal legislative achievement: H.R. 130, congratulating the Indianapolis Colts for winning the Super Bowl.

"I won a deep-dish pizza, a pound of cheesecake, and a bunch of DVDs for our troops," reported Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.).

"Go, Colts," contributed Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.). Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) asked for "unanimous consent to add to the Congressional Record the names of all the members of the Colts offense, defense, substitutions and the coaching staff."

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) tried to crash the Hoosiers' party. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, he said, "is married to a Chattanooga girl."

The new Congress has a problem. The just-empowered Democrats have declared that lawmakers will work five-day weeks like most other Americans. But, at this early date, there isn't much legislation ready for passage -- so what little there is has to be stretched out to fill the week.

The House, which will hold its Iraq war debate next week, will extend that discussion by giving five minutes of floor time to all 435 members. And in the Senate, the pace is so lethargic that Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) told colleagues late Tuesday that he would give them an extra week of vacation if they would take up the legislation he wants.

Senate Republicans blocked a debate on the Iraq war on Monday, but because the lawmakers have no other legislation ready to consider, they spent the past two days talking about it anyway. One by one, Republicans took to the Senate floor yesterday to plead for the debate they had blocked.

"I'm disappointed . . . we're not having the Iraq debate," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

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