Column: Why doesn’t Congress just stay in town and get to work?

WASHINGTON – Congress has just left for another “district work period,” which is Congress-speak for going home to see the folks.

Lawmakers get angry when these Capitol Hill absences are called vacations. They insist there is a lot to do: seeing constituents, holding town meetings and of course raising campaign money. They also argue these hometown visits are necessary to keep in touch with the people they represent and to ward off the threat of becoming a creature of Washington.

Still, critics charge that with Congress lurching from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, wouldn’t it be better to just stay in town until a budget is approved? That would ensure that last minute emergency spending bills don’t have to be passed over and over again.

The issue is more sensitive for the House, which pauses for breaks more often than the Senate.

Charges of wasted time are usually raised by the minority party and right now that would be Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate.

While Republicans were in the minority a few years ago, they took over the House floor to protest when Democrats left town but failed to lock the doors to the chamber. Republican lawmakers even invited tourists down from the galleries to join in the demonstrations.

Nothing like that has happened since and the ruling Republicans make sure the chamber doors are locked when they take a break. However the minority Democrats are now complaining about wasted time.

Dave McConnell has been covering Capitol Hill for WTOP since 1981. You can follow Dave and @WTOP on Twitter.

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