A five-day work week

A FIVE-DAY WORK WEEK…. It will no doubt be a change of pace, but apparently, members of Congress may have to start working (cue scary music) five days a week, at least some of the time.

House Democratic leaders have decided to lengthen the congressional workweek next year as they try to implement President-elect Obama’s agenda and clear a backlog of priorities no longer subject to the veto of President Bush.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released a 2009 schedule on Friday that includes 11 five-day weeks and 18 four-day weeks. The House is scheduled to be in session for 137 days before the target adjournment date of Oct. 30.

If this sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. When Democrats reclaimed the House majority after the 2006 cycle, leaders vowed to bring back five-day workweeks. They backpedaled this year, as members felt more pressure to return home during a campaign cycle. The House still worked more Mondays and Fridays in 2008 than they did in 2006, when Republicans led the chamber, but not by much.

This upcoming year, however, will apparently be work-intensive. Keep an eye out to see just how much pushback the leadership gets on this. Two years ago, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) was so outraged by the idea of forcing lawmakers to work five days a week, he told reporters, “Keeping us up here eats away at families. Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families — that’s what this says.”

Kingston’s bizarre whining notwithstanding, it’s hard to feel too sorry for the lawmakers. We’re in the midst of several crises, and Congress had several years — most notably 2004 to 2007 — in which the institution didn’t do much of anything.

Congress might actually benefit from this. Back in the day, lawmakers were stuck in Washington for months at a time, and were forced to actually get to know one another. They forged relationships that led to cooperation. It seems crazy, but it actually happened.

Besides, in the midst of daunting unemployment, it seems more than a little ridiculous to have members of Congress complaining about having to work too much on addressing the nation’s problems.

If Congress is looking for sympathy on this one, lawmakers are likely to be very disappointed.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.