Nearly 170 lawmakers including San Bernardino County’s lone Democratic representative did not cast votes for the final pieces of legislation of the 111th Congress this week.
Members in the House of Representatives had hoped to adjourn last week so they could spend the holidays with their families before the 112th Congress began on Jan. 5. After the Senate failed to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to fund the government into next year, though, representatives were told they would have to come back this week to vote on a final version of the spending bill on Tuesday – a deadline that had to be met to avoid a government shutdown. Some members apparently decided they were going to go home anyway because the final House vote for the bill was 193-165 with 75 not voting, including 43 Democrats and 32 Republicans.
The House then hoped to adjourn after that vote, but when it became clear the Senate would approve a 9/11 first responders healthcare bill on Wednesday, the lower chamber remained in session so it too could pass that piece of legislation and send it to President Barack Obama to sign into law. That measure also passed, but with even fewer members voting. The final tally for that bill was 206-60 – with 168 members not voting including 79 Democrats and 89 Republicans.
Among the other pieces of legislation this week several members decided to skip out on included food safety legislation where 74 House members did not vote and protecting students from violent and sexual predators where 99 members did not vote. San Bernardino County Democratic Rep. Joe Baca did not vote on any of the legislative items mentioned.
Senate Republicans had been using Christmas and New Years as an excuse on why they should not have had to vote on some major pieces of legislation during the lame-duck session. They said they wanted to get home to spend time with their families and that is understandable. Most everyone wants to do that, including the servicemen and women fighting overseas. What is disappointing though, is lawmakers seem more and more to want to work less and less.
Millions of Americans have to work right up until Christmas Eve with thousands having to work on that day and Christmas so heaven forbid lawmakers might have to do the same. The American people elected their representatives and senators to go to Washington and work on policies that will not only improve upon their individual lives but also improve the country as a whole. Politicians certainly cannot do that if they are not working.
Regardless of party affiliation, if a representative or senator does not want to work then they should either resign from office, not seek re-election or the voters should just vote them out in the next election. It is already ridiculous lawmakers get one to two weeks of vacation throughout the year for holidays most Americans get one, maybe two, days off for. It also is ridiculous lawmakers get almost two months off a couple times a year. So, for lawmakers to rush out of town and not even finish the congressional year to which they were elected is mind-boggling.
Earlier in the year, House Republicans released their calendar for the first session of the 112th Congress and surprise, lawmakers will spend less time on Capitol Hill. House members will work 123 days during 32 weeks – the number of days is consistent with previous first sessions, but the number of weeks in session will decrease 11 percent. So now House members will work even fewer weeks during the year than they already do.
Some might argue that lawmakers should spend less time in Washington and more time in their districts listening to their constituents and maybe that is true, but another argument could be made that if they got elected in the first place then they know what their constituents want – that is especially so if they continue to get re-elected.
The fact that lawmakers get far better healthcare benefits than the average American even after they are no longer a member of Congress, they get an average of $174,000 a year and they only have to work about 32 weeks a year are things that should upset every American. Most Americans have inadequate healthcare coverage, make around $44,000 a year and have to work about 45 weeks a year. By comparison, representatives have no right to argue they have been in session working too long.
There are millions of Americans who are in need of a job and probably would love having a job where apparently it is OK to get good benefits, good pay and not work that often to earn those things. Voters put their representatives and senators in office to work and that is what is expected of them. So if those nearly 170 lawmakers who decided to skip out on the last few votes of the year cannot do that – or do not want to do that – then they have no business being in office in the first place.
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