So far, this is how Rep. Rick Nolan’s first week in Congress has gone: Get sworn-in on Thursday, take three votes on Friday, and then adjourn for a week.
In fact, the House is scheduled to be in session only six more days this month. Plus 11 days in February, for a grand total of 17 work days between now and the next “fiscal cliff” deadline on automatic ("sequester") spending cuts.
“We’re not working four or five days a week, like everybody else does in America,” said the Minnesota Democrat. “The fact is, Congress is not governing.”
Nolan, who served three terms in the 1970s, is often asked how Congress has changed over the intervening decades. On Monday, he told Minnesota reporters that the biggest difference is the reduced work schedule – and the amount of time lawmakers spend on the phone begging for campaign cash.
By Nolan’s estimate, the average “call time,” is about 30 hours a week. “The time that people are spending now raising money and campaigning is time Congress used to spend governing,” he said.
Nolan wants to fix this by introducing legislation limiting the time lawmakers can spend campaigning and increasing the transparency requirements around fundraising.
He also mentioned a constitutional amendment to “reverse Citizens United,” the 2010 Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on political expenditures by corporations and unions (and led to a record $20 million getting pumped by both sides into his race against freshman Republican Chip Cravaack).
Reversing Citizens United has been high on the Democrats’ wish list for a while. But it’s a non-starter in the GOP-controlled House, which Nolan all but concedes.
Meanwhile, he promised, “I’m not going to spend 30 hours a week doing ‘call time,’ I’ll tell you that right now.”
But that doesn’t mean that Nolan is disarming financially. “This is no game,” he said. “It’s serious business, and you’ve got to abide by the rules of the business. You have to have enough money to get your message out… I have no doubt that if I did absolutely nothing, I’d be on the outside looking in.”