The Vacation Kings return

Tuesday - 6/10/2014, 2:00am EDT

Congress is back at work (again) this week. Its most recent vacation, last week, technically lasted only a week. But as with many things Congress does and doesn't do, appearances can be deceptive.

In reality, some members actually had a lot more time off. They are charter and new members of the TWT Club. That stands for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — the days when many are actually in Washington. Most of them leave town late Thursday or early Friday and return in time for work Monday. If you doubt it, check out the Free VIP parking areas at Washington's Reagan National Airport. Most members of Congress keep their home-state license plates so they are easy to spot.

One theory about the high number of paid days off for members of the House and Senate is that they are indignant much of the time. And indignation takes its toll. Many, if not most, members of Congress spend a lot of time being indignant about something or other, especially in off-year elections. Like 2014.

The fact that the presidency isn't at stake in this year's elections means a lot fewer people are tuning in, and the number of people who actually vote in November will probably be down. That's good news for some politicians, bad news for others — especially incumbents who face strong challenges.

Fortunately for politicians, there are a number of things to be indignant about this year. Both ways. There is the VA scandal, which is yet to be fully explained, attacked and defended. And the prisoner swap where five Guantanamo detainees were traded for an American soldier who has been in Taliban hands for five years. Although promoted twice during his captivity, critics of the swap say there is a lot we don't know. Although it is shaping up along partisan lines — Democrats saying we don't leave soldiers behind, Republicans saying maybe we should have in this case — some members are furious the required 30-day alert wasn't given.

Whatever happens with the VA and the prisoner swap, it is going to be a long, hot summer. With at least two winners:

  • The 24/7 cycle news media. It loves indignation because it gives drama and color even when things are otherwise. The more heads that roll, the better.

  • Federal workers almost certainly will benefit from indignation fever. Because while Congress is busy being indignant (not to mention running for reelection), it is distracted from playing whack-a-mole with feds.
This time last year, there were furloughs, sequestration cuts for real and serious talk about making changes in the federal retirement program. The most serious threat would have reduced future cost-of-living adjustments for retirees (federal, military, Social Security) dramatically and permanently. The White House also proposed the new diet COLA plan in 2013. But it was dropped from this year's election-year budget because, well, because this is an election year. About one in six Americans gets a Social Security benefit, a fact not lost on any politician.

For most feds, 2014 promises to be better (as in more peaceful) than last year. Enjoy it while you can.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, tasked by President Thomas Jefferson with mapping out the newly acquired western territory of the United States in the early 1800s, remained relatively unknown for 150 years after their expedition. It wasn't until the 1960s that popular historical interest picked up and the duo became more widely known.

(Source: Smithsonian)


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