Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Do-nothing House sets itself up to sink to a new low in 2014

You’ve had one of your least productive years ever, and now you tell your bosses that you plan to spend even less time at work this year.

Could you get away with that? Not likely.

Yet, that’s exactly what Republican leaders of the U.S. House are trying to put over on the American public.

Last year, when the House worked 135 days, the 113th Congress passed the fewest laws – 65 – of any session on record. This year, the House plans to be in session only 112 days – and only 97 before the November election. (The Democratic-led U.S. Senate, by contrast, is tentatively scheduled to be in session 196 days this year.)

That means House members, who returned to Washington on Monday after a three-week holiday recess, will be paid about $1,550 every day they are in session, plus benefits. Based on an eight-hour workday, that’s an hourly rate of $194 – higher than the average for every other occupation listed by the federal government. And many Mondays and Fridays, they’re not working full days.

They ought to be ashamed, but they have long since proven they don’t have any sense of shame.

The bare-bones calendar is constructed to give House members as much time as possible on the campaign trail – the last day before the Nov. 4 midterm election is Oct. 2 – and also to protect them from controversial votes that could hurt their re-election bids.

So at town halls for GOP incumbents, one of the first questions that voters should ask is: Since you’re far more interested in your political future than our futures, why in the world would we keep you in office?

Meanwhile, important work is left undone – real immigration reform, a major farm bill and sensible gun legislation, just to name a few big issues. The GOP House is still standing in the way of extending jobless benefits for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed, including more than 200,000 in California, who were left in the lurch last month when Congress let their benefits expire.

While disappointingly few in the rank-and-file are raising a ruckus about this embarrassing state of affairs, most of the blame belongs with the GOP leaders: Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

The leadership is already trying to lower expectations for accomplishing much this year, which for this do-nothing bunch is stunning. Yes, passing bad laws is worse than approving none at all, but members of Congress should at least be on the job. It’s difficult to represent your constituents when you don’t even show up.

Their public approval ratings sank to an all-time low of 9 percent in November; their average 14 percent approval in 2013 was the lowest in Gallup’s history, and less than half the average since Gallup started polling on that question in 1974.

Given how low they are setting their sights for 2014, if their ratings plunge even lower – and if more than a few of them lose their jobs – they will have no one to blame but themselves.