In the late '60s and early '70s when a reform wave was sweeping the House, many long-standing traditions were overturned.
The seniority system was badly dented. An accounting system that led to abuse was changed. A new ethics code was installed.
But one tradition remained sacrosanct. The House was and is a "Tuesday to Thursday club." No serious work is done on Mondays and Fridays because members go home to their districts and simply are not around to vote.
According to a just-formed group of members, this is to blame for many of the problems that now plague the House.
"We try to do eight days of work in three," Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), a founder of the new group, said.
Moreover, Gephardt said, committees aren't functioning, because as soon as they sit down to work on a bill, House bells summon them to the chamber for a vote.
"We're like automatons. We spend our time walking in tunnels to go to the floor to vote," he said, and that leads to "shoddy committee work, with no time to come to an understanding, no thought to building coalitions."
Instead, staffs write bills, and the bills are rewritten or defeated on the floor. The frantic pace leaves little time to mull over important issues facing the country, Gephardt said.
A group started by Gephardt, Rep. David Stockman (R-Mich.) and Tim Wirth (D-Colo.) wants to change that system.
They are recommending, as a small first step, that committees meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays without the interruption of a floor session. Floor debate would be scheduled on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Modest as it sounds, the suggestion is likely to meet fierce opposition. East Coast members have often decided against moving their families here because the system allows them to spend four days at home. House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill was a charter member of the Tuesday-Thursday club for years. Until he became speaker, O'Neill went home to Boston almost every Thursday night. Members as far away as Missouri or South Carolina also do it. Even West Coast members go home two or three times a month.
"We don't have any illusions it will be easy to change. You start talking about personal life decisions. But we must construct this place so those who are interested in being personally involved will be," Gephardt said.
The Gephardt - Stockman - Wirth group has no name. It was born, Wirth said, at a lunch where the three, considered to be among the brightest and hardest-working junior members of the House, discussed their mutual frustration.
They were dismayed and frustrated with the problems that had plagued the House all year -- increasingly bitter partisanship, shoddy committee work leading to bills being completely rewritten or defeated on the floor, too many meeting conflicts, too little time to consider issues.
"Our frustration stemmed from our inability to find a consensus on important issues we really need to do something about," such as the economy or energy, Gephardt said.
"We agreed to get a bipartisan group together to talk about that."
As it turns out, the group -- now numbering about 17 -- has one of the most impressive membership list of any group n the House. Stockman and Gephardt themselves are rising stars in their partes, respected for their diligence, intelligence and ability to effectively influence outcomes of votes. Gephardt recently defeated Carter's hospital cost containment bill despite massive lobbyng by the White House.
To the group have been added such respected senior members as Rep. Barber Conable (R-N.Y.), ranking minority member of the Ways and Means Committee, Richard Bolling (D-Mo.), Rules Committee chairman and "guru" of Hose reformers, Majority Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.), David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Democratc Study Group, and one of the brightest freshman Republicans, Rep. Richard Cheney (Wyo.).
The group has started with a modest proposal -- Tuesday and Thursday as committee days - because Republicans and Democrats are still somewhat wary of each other and what to stick to procedural problems where it is easier to get agreement.
They are cautious in predicting any success. But if they can work together they intend to try to find common ground to build coalitions on the budget and energy. "There is a sense of urgency about our inability to make important strides in energy and economy," Gephardt said.
"We seem only able to move politically when a collapse or an occasional crisis happens. We have to start building coalitions again and stop frittering away our time, avoiding the heart of the matter."
Reaching across the divide that has separated Democrats and Republicans all year may be the most important thing the group does.