GOP freshman charges Cantor with crafting lax work schedule

A GOP freshman needled incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Thursday, questioning whether Cantor's 2011 schedule allows for too much time off for lawmakers.

In an unusual power play move by a freshman, Rep.-elect Allen West (R-Fla.) wrote to Cantor to inquire why House lawmakers aren't planning to spend more time in Washington.

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"As we know, Congress needs to work to create jobs, reduce the deficit, strengthen our economy, limit the size of government and contend with a plethora of national security issues," West said Thursday in a statement. "How are we to do that when, among other things, we start off being in session only ten days the entire month of January?"

Incoming Majority Leader Cantor is responsible for setting the schedule for the House. The Republicans' transition office examined the time table over the past few months and said they reformed it to enhance efficiency and add certainty. That schedule would rotate a week of recess after every two weeks of work for lawmakers. 

"More days in session has always resulted in bigger, more intrusive government, not more production. What matters is who’s in charge and the process put in place, not the number of days in session," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Cantor.

While the schedule maintains about the same number of days the House will stay in session, it will reduce the number of weeks lawmakers will spend in Washington. 

"The newly elected Republican class is pleased that the schedule allows for greater certainty, increased oversight and more time spent in districts listening to constituents, small business people and families and less time in Washington promoting bigger government," Dayspring added.

West said lawmakers need to work harder.

"We have to show the American people we are going to be different than years past," he said. "We are there for one reason and one reason only, to work for the constituents of the districts we are so privileged to represent.  I hope that if it becomes clear that we are not meeting the promise we made to the American people, leadership will modify the schedule in order for us to accomplish the important task we have before us."

West is one of the highest-profile freshman lawmakers and has ties to the Tea Party. His letter is a sign of the struggles that could befuddle GOP leaders in the next Congress as they wrestle with how to incorporate the insurgent conservatives into their governing majority.

Another GOP lawmaker said some incoming freshmen indicated they wanted to spend less time in Washington next year.

"We had three members of the new freshmen class on the transition team," Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), head of the transition team working group on the House schedule. "And what certainly came out of that is they have no history to how this place was run before. We had freshmen who said we should be here less, a lot less than we have been for the past two years, based upon the lack of them seeing their opponent — which they believe caused their opponent to lose, because they weren't close to the people."

Molly K. Hooper contributed.

This post was last updated at 12:31 p.m.