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Lawmakers take in $608 per hour for the time they work in DC

Lawmakers take in $608 per hour for the time they work in DC
© Greg Nash

Congress will be in session for only eight days during a 102-day span between Aug. 1 and Nov. 12, when lawmakers are set to return for a lame-duck session after the elections. 

Because the annual salary for members of the House is $174,000, their hourly wage for those eight days amounts to $608 per hour, presuming 10-hour workdays.

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That’s several times the hourly compensation of anesthesiologists, one of the highest-earning professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at $113 an hour on average.

Liberal activist Ralph Nader worked out the eye-popping calculation in an angry letter he sent to Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner: 'Thank God' I wasn't in the middle of election Ryan delays committee assignments until 2017 Lobbying World MORE (R-Ohio) on Monday.

“While millions of Americans are working more and more for less and less, you and your House of Representatives seem to have no problem working less and less for more and more,” he wrote.

Nader calculated that BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner: 'Thank God' I wasn't in the middle of election Ryan delays committee assignments until 2017 Lobbying World MORE, who earns $223,500 a year as Speaker, will earn roughly $781 per hour over a three-and-half month span, given Congress worked only eight days. Boehner has a higher salary than rank-and-file members. 

Lawmakers and their aides rebut Nader’s claim by arguing that time spent in Washington is only part of their job. The other part is meeting with and serving constituents back in their home districts and states. That’s why they call the time away state and district “work periods.”

But critics, including President Obama, aren’t buying it. Obama scolded lawmakers on Aug. 2 for going “on vacation” without passing legislation to raise the minimum wage or reduce interest on student loans.  

The light schedule is partly a reflection of the election year. 

The House left for a five-week vacation from Washington on Aug. 1 and didn’t return until Sept. 8. After two four-day workweeks, it left again Thursday and is not due to return until Nov. 12.

The Senate worked a similar schedule. It took the same break as the House in August and also worked only two weeks in September before leaving Washington to campaign for the midterm elections.

Some lawmakers admit they should probably be working harder.

Rep. David Jolly, a Republican from Florida, sent a letter to the House Rules Committee asking for the House to adopt a rule that would require it to stay in session longer.

“I write to strongly advocate for a permanent rule change that would formally require the House to be in session significantly more days during the 114th Congress, which will convene in January 2015,” he wrote.

“The House of Representatives, the ‘People’s House,’ simply cannot address the many priorities of the nation if we are not in session more days,” he added.

Jolly, who is expected to win his reelection race despite representing a toss-up district after Democrats failed to field a candidate, addressed his letter to Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Rules subcommittee on organization of the House.

Jolly says that the Rules Committee should require that the House work from 8 a.m. Monday until 6 p.m. Friday, far longer than it usually does when in session.

Last week, the House didn’t begin votes until 6:30 p.m. Monday and held only a pro-forma session on Friday after most lawmakers left. Often the House is not in session on Mondays.

Senators have rarely been in Washington on Fridays, with many members heading back to their states to campaign. 

“The fact is we don’t have enough hours on the legislative calendar to address major, comprehensive issues,” Jolly said in an interview, citing immigration reform and a resolution authorizing military strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Lawmakers say they plan to debate the use-of-force resolution against Islamic militants in the lame-duck session after Election Day, when they will take up other delayed work such as a bill funding the government in 2015.

Jolly, however, disputes the characterization of Congress as “on vacation” during recesses.

“We work just as hard when we are home, if not harder. I have 80-hour workweeks at home,” he said.

Nader, in an interview, challenged that claim.

“You are paid by the taxpayer to work in Congress at least a 40-hour week. If you want to do anything back home after that, that’s discretionary time. They don’t pay you to campaign for your reelection,” he said.

He argued that lawmakers spend much of their workweek in Washington raising money while “still getting paid as if you’re working in a committee or on the floor.”

A slideshow presentation given to incoming freshmen after the 2012 elections advised newly minted lawmakers to set aside four hours a day for fundraising phone calls within their 10-hour workdays, and spend another hour a day on “strategic outreach,” according to The Huffington Post. That leaves members with about four hours a day to work on legislative responsibilities.