Members of Congress don't like their working conditions, think they're underpaid, hate the budget process, resent the amount of time taken up by fund-raising and lobbyists, regret they don't see more of their families -- and want to remain in office as long as possible.
Those somewhat contradictory views of congressional life are outlined in a 204-page study of life on Capitol Hill released yesterday by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Funded by the Ford Foundation, the study is based on interviews with 114 House and Senate members and 115 senior staff members, whose anonymous observations led to the center's conclusion that "members are frustrated and deeply concerned about the way Congress operates."
Without substantive reforms in congressional operations, the study concludes, "legislative gridlock will become the norm."
The study by the nonprofit, bipartisan center adds statistical support to the growing anecdotal evidence that members of Congress are increasingly frustrated by the demands of public service.
Frustration seems particularly apparent in the Senate, where several members at the peak of their careers have announced their retirements this year and an ad hoc group is pushing for changes in scheduling and rules to make the Senate work more effectively and reduce the pressure on family lives.
Almost 95 percent of the members interviewed in the study said changes are needed. Almost two-thirds cited changes in the legislative schedule as a major concern, and 80 percent said that their legislative duties leave them with little time to devote to their families.
Many said they favor a shift that the Senate will experiment with this year under which the chamber will be in session for three weeks a month, with the fourth week devoted to work in members' home states.
The study uncovered substantial, but not overwhelming, support for changes in Senate rules to improve efficiency. Of the 27 senators interviewed, almost half said they favor rules making it easier to limit debate on subjects that have already been considered in a session, 50 percent favored restricting filibusters on motions to proceed to consideration of legislation and almost three-quarters said senators should be limited or prevented from putting "holds" on legislation and appointments.
The congressional budget process was another frequent complaint, with almost half of the members saying that the cumbersome and time-consuming budget procedure has weakened the power of authorizing committees to make policy. Almost 47 percent said that the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget law has not improved the process, and 85.8 percent said they favor a two-year appropriations cycle rather than the existing annual appropriations process.
Despite those broad complaints, fewer than half of the members surveyed put a limit on the number of years they would like to serve on Capitol Hill. Almost one-quarter said they would like to stay indefinitely, and 86.7 percent said they would like to stay 14 years or more.
Ellen S. Miller, the executive director of the center, attributed the desire of members to remain in office despite their frustrations to their commitment "to public service."
On the politically sensitive question of congressional pay, most members think their current pay of $89,500 a year is not enough. More than half suggested salaries of $90,000 to $130,000. Two-thirds said they would accept a ban on honoraria -- senators may now earn up to $35,800 a year that way and House members $26,850 -- if their regular salaries were higher.
Only about one-fifth of the members said that campaign contributions have a direct effect on legislation. But 43.3 percent said that political action committees (PACs) have a negative influence. And nearly half said campaign fund-raising limits the time members spend on legislative work.