Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 12.31.21
Just Outside Washington


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Our Members of Congress really work hard, sometimes it takes years of hearings and sessions to pass a single bill. For example, H.R. 3962, Affordable Care Act, was presented to the House of Representatives in July of 2009, and wasn't signed into law until March 23, 2010, after months of revisions, amendments, and debates about the bill. After it was passed, it still wasn't safe. In fact, according to TIME, "the House voted to repeal or amend the Affordable Care Act more than 50 times since it was passed."

The House adjourned and left early Wednesday morning and will not return until January, and the Senate had been scheduled to leave town for the year on Friday. However, Democrats are warning they are willing to keep the Senate in Washington, D.C., heading into Christmas. However, they adjourned today. So how much do these guys and gals really work? A quick look at the 2021 schedule for Congressional sessions can be summarized as follows: Month Federal Holidays...Both in Session...House in Session, Senate in Session, Total Sessions: January 2 8 12 13 25 ...February 1 8 14 16 30...March 0 8 15 17 32...April 0 8 15 15 30...May 1 8 13 15 28...June 0 8 11 15 26...July 1 9 15 17 32...August 0 0 10 15 25...September 6 9 15 16 31...October 1 9 13 13 26...November 1 10 15 16 31...December 2 8 9 10 19. Source: Congress.Gov

Of course, there are committee meetings that Members of Congress attend, so the total days in session does not reflect their total workload. For example, this week the House was scheduled to have six committee meetings; the Senate, twelve meetings; and joint House and Senate, one meeting.

While most U.S. workers work a 40, or more, hour week, Congress does not. Part of the problem stems from the fact that most Members of Congress do not live in Washington, so they have a long commute. Members typically arrive in Washington on Monday or Tuesday for votes scheduled to start Tuesday evening and leave after votes on Thursday afternoon or Friday. This truncated schedule leaves only one full day, Wednesday, for committee hearings, markups, and the other necessary ingredients for fruitful legislating.

Members of Congress do other things besides have hearings, write bills, and pass them. They raise money for campaigns, talk to constituents, and talk to the public, both directly and through social media. For example, Kevin McCarthy tweeted about the infrastructure bill: "Every page of the Democrats' Socialist Spending Scam will be paid for by or borrowed from you: America's hardworking taxpayers. This is the single most reckless and irresponsible spending bill in our nation's history."

And, of course, Members of Congress talk to lobbyists. According to, in 2020, the total number of registered lobbyists who have actively lobbied in the United States was 11,524. (This was a decrease from 2000, when there were 12,540 registered lobbyists.) There are 100 Senators and 435 Members of the House, which calculates to 145 lobbyists for every Member of Congress.

What is wrong with this picture?

For all this work, do we pay out Members of Congress well? The salary of a Member of Congress varies based on the job title of the Congressman or Senator. Most Senators and Representatives make a salary of $174,000 per year. Higher-level positions in Congress make a higher income. For example, the speaker of the House makes $223,500 per year, and the president pro tempore of the Senate, majority leaders and minority leaders in the House and Senate make $193,400 per year.

But then, Members of Congress receives a Members' Representational Allowance (MRA) for personal expenses. Allowances for office expenses vary from member to member based on the distance between the member's home district and Washington, D.C., and the average rent for office space in the member's home district. The MRAs range from $1,207,510 to $1,383,709, with an average of $1,268,520. The Senate has a similar expense payment, which is essentially double that of the House.

The Congressional schedule is a far cry from the flexible schedules I had when I worked for consulting firms, where one had the adage of: "We allow extreme flexibility in work at this firm, you can work your 80 hours a week, any time you wish".