"Missed birthdays, games, and plays end in tears," one congressional wife and mother of young children tells me, delighted by the "certainty of the calendar" for the next Congress. Hers is a reality that all too many parents -- in and out of Congress -- know is often unavoidable. But sometimes it can be managed. Seventy-six of the 87 new Republican members of Congress have children, 233 in total, a majority of whom are under 18. And they've got a leadership trying to make these scheduling problems a little less pervasive.
Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, has announced a schedule for the next Congress that looks something like what House Republicans have been promising for going on a year now. It's not about making life easier, but rather a little more efficient -- just a little saner -- on a fairly reliable calendar.
It's one of many practical responses to the now inarguable notion that Washington just doesn't work as efficiently as it should and could. "Poor time management is a symptom of a bloated, inefficient, hyperactive federal government," Gary Andres, vice chairman of Dutko Worldwide, who served in the first Bush White House, tells me. "The incoming majority's reforms grasp this reality and send an important signal," This, along with other promised reforms, is "about listening to America, working smarter, and realizing naming another Post Office or creating a new Washington program won't improve our country's future."
The goals are: the eradication of late nights, missed planes and unread bills. In theory, the congressperson benefits, his or her family benefits, and the constituents benefit.
"Shortening the number of weeks in the session calendar (from 36 to 32 weeks) is a good idea that will lessen travel pressure for members," Chuck Donovan, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a longtime Washington hand, recently told me. "The new calendar should permit more family-oriented members not to uproot their wives and children because of the assurance of a week home per month." By spending more time at home, members will also be in better touch with the folks they represent, instead of waiting until August to get feedback from their constituents.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is encouraged by the move: "As one who served in office and had to balance all the competing demands of family, having some certainty in schedule would have been a big help." He adds, "This is important, not just for them personally, but for the conservative movement ... These changes are vital to keep the conservative majority."