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Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Do congressmen work hard for the money?
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Operating most weeks on a Tuesday-through-Thursday schedule, Congress is poised to finish this year with just 100 working days under its belt -- the fewest since 1948, when then-President Harry Truman famously blasted what he called a "do-nothing Congress."

The year is likely to end with no final action on a number of major issues, including Social Security and immigration reform and tighter ethics standards for lawmakers. And the American people, by a wide margin, now think their lawmakers in Washington aren't getting enough done, according to a new CNN poll.

Asked if they were satisfied with what Congress had accomplished this year, only 13 percent of Americans polled said they were -- while a whopping 85 percent said they wish Congress had done more.

Twelve years ago, Republicans swept to power in the House vowing to reform the ossified practices of a Democratic majority that had held sway for four decades. But today, a clear majority of Americans -- 56 percent -- say they think the GOP-run Congress has failed, while only 40 percent see it as a success, according to the poll.

The sampling error for the poll of 1,013 adult Americans, conducted for CNN by Opinion Research Corporation, was plus or minus 3 percentage points. During the 1960s and 1970s, Congress met an average of 161 days a year. In the 1980s and 1990s, that number dropped to 139 days. This year, Congress will probably end up meeting for about 100 days -- an average of about two days a week in return for a salary of $165,000.

The reason? Many weeks, the House and Senate don't schedule sessions on Monday or Friday, so that members can return to their home districts and states to make political appearances and raise the money they need for increasingly expensive re-election campaigns.

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said he used to joke with his GOP counterpart, Trent Lott, "that if we wanted everybody here for every important vote, the only time we could actually schedule it was Wednesday afternoon."

Lott said that, when he was majority leader, senators would routinely line up in front of his office to beg for their four-day weekends. "Some of them would get pretty aggressive about it," he said.

-- CNN's Ed Henry
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