Taking day off for football costs Dems credibility

House Democrats lost considerable credibility yesterday when their opening session was cancelled so that members could attend the Ohio State-Florida State football game.

House Democrats lost considerable credibility yesterday when their opening session was cancelled so that members could attend the Ohio State-Florida State football game.

This is not a joke.

It is, however, a blunt metaphor for how genuinely out of touch the members of Congress really are. How many other Americans do you suppose were given the same perk? A day off because of an evening football game? And how many school kids would like to have time off to watch their own favorite teams? What kind of message is the House leadership sending?

Is it that they don’t get how bad it looks, or that they don’t care?

Their record has been dismal. Last year, the House and Senate worked an average of about two days a week for their salary of $162,500. Nice work if you can find it. Responding to well-deserved criticisms, the new House majority leader, Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), with great fanfare, promised a five-day work week. But that was just talk. When it was the Republicans who were scheduling the eight-day month, Hoyer was outraged. But now that the Democrats control the calendar, he considers a football game to be a legitimate excuse for a vacation day. As he said in reference to the new House minority leader, John Boehner (R-Ohio), “There is a very important event happening Monday night, particularly for those who live in Ohio and Florida. In the spirit of comity, and I know if Maryland were playing, I would want to be accommodated, and I want to accommodate my friend, Mr. Boehner.”

Apparently Mr. Hoyer is not familiar with the disdain that American voters feel for members of Congress. A mid-December Gallup poll showed that 74 percent of Americans disapproved of the job that Congress was doing. Hoyer is certainly doing his best to keep those negative poll numbers.

And there won’t be a five-day work week at all in January. The Martin Luther King holiday falls next week and the Democrats and Republicans are holding respective retreats during the following two weeks. The Democrats are planning a day of speeches in two weeks, including one by Bill Clinton. Hey folks, ever think about doing this on a weekend?

So the promised “five-day” work week starts on Tuesday at 6:30 and ends at about 2 on Friday — more like a two-and-a-half-day work week.

And that might not even happen if there’s another important football game.

Meanwhile in the Senate, while Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) fight for an independent watchdog to enforce lobbying laws, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) insists that hearings must first be held on the issue. This is hardly a new idea. It’s been proposed for years and makes sense. We’ve seen how little policing of lobbyists has been done — witness Jack Abramoff and his cohorts. Requiring hearings is just another stalling tactic. And, in any event, Reid is the last person who should be in charge of designing the self-policing of lobbyists. For years, his three sons and son-in-law made millions by lobbying for Nevada interests — often working out of his Senate office. Only when the press called attention to the practice did Reid bar the boys. Talk about the goats guarding the garbage! Sen. Obama spoke of “institutional resistance” to the watchdog provisions. That institutional resistance has led to serious lobbying transgressions that must be stopped.

If the Democrats want to stay in power, and if Congress wants to win the support and trust of the American people, they’d better start thinking about how their actions resonate with the average voter. Looks like it’s already time for new Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to use her “mother-of-five voice” and turn things around in the House. As for the Senate, let’s hope the new members speak out and force real and necessary reforms. This time the country is watching.

Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of “Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.” To sign up to get all of Dick Morris’s and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail, go to www.dickmorris.com.