- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

Congress is poised to meet fewer days this year than the notorious 1948 legislative body dubbed by President Truman as the “Do-Nothing Congress.”

The average number of days lawmakers spend in session has dwindled over the decades, but legislators are on track to be in Washington fewer than 130 days in 2006.

“The ‘do-nothing’ nickname worked for Harry Truman, and Democrats are reviving it again this year,” said Richard Semiatin, assistant professor of political science at American University. “Especially every time there is an election year, Congress is very, very reticent to do a lot of work.”

Truman came up with the nickname during his 1948 campaign. The incumbent president called Congress into a special session that summer to work on legislation ranging from civil rights to an increase in the minimum wage. Later in the campaign, he called lawmakers the “do-nothing Republican 80th Congress.”

“When I called them back into session what did they do? Nothing. Nothing. That Congress never did anything the whole time it was in session,” Truman said, according to an account in the book “Congress and the Nation.”

His Republican opponent, New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, called the 80th Congress “one of the best.”

Voters apparently agreed with Truman, returning him to the White House and delivering the Democrats enough seats to take back control of the House and Senate.

Lawmakers met for 108 days that year. This year, House of Representatives is on schedule to meet fewer days than that and the Senate will probably reach 130 days, its fewest in many years.

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, are evoking the nickname as they try to win back control.

Rep. Jim McDermott said lawmakers have run afoul of their true purpose.

“This is the least time we are spending in Washington of any year since at least the 1950s,” the Washington Democrat said. “They’re just keeping us out of town.”

Congress, which took a rare week off for a St. Patrick’s Day break, will take two weeks off starting next Monday for a “spring district work period.”

Voters “expect Congress to do something that is relevant to their lives,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “They have to work five days a week. I do not know why we should not.”

Sean Spicer, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, said the number of days members spend in Washington is not a good indicator of the quality of work.

“In many cases, members work harder in their districts than when they are in Washington,” he said.

Rep. Thelma Drake, Virginia Republican, argued that this Congress has been more effective than previous ones, pointing to recent bills changing bankruptcy, energy and immigration policy.

“It’s an inaccurate fact to call us a ‘do-nothing Congress,’ there is a very lengthy list of things we have done,” she said.


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