WASHINGTON — REP. Byron Dorgan (D) of North Dakota got tired of eating peanut-butter sandwiches with his two small children and his wife in his office as House debates droned on into the evening.
He would rather have been home for dinner with his family. And he's letting the House leadership know this by voting for more family values in scheduling.
Representative Dorgan sent a letter to the leadership, signed by a bipartisan list of 30 to 40 other House members, asking for House sessions to start earlier and end earlier on days where nine hours of debate are scheduled. This would allow for "family time" at night.
"I watched the schedule for some while and saw that when we go in at high noon [for debate] the day lasts till 9 p.m. It occurred to me that anywhere else you are going to have nine hours of work, you would start at a time so you finished at dinner time.
You have a slightly different approach when you expect to have a longer day. A good number of members have children and have other things they'd like to do between 6 and 7 in the evening," he says.
The schedules are not very friendly to family life in any event, because there is too much travel, he says, but more normal working hours would help.
Nobody minds working hard, he continued. "If you didn't accept hard work you wouldn't be in this business. The caricature drawn of members of Congress is completely unfortunate and unfair.
"I usually work a couple of hours in the evening, and do hope to get home to have dinner with my family. I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old. They're all pretty understanding, come in and have sandwiches in my office if dinner is going to be very late."
In response to the letter, a spokesman for House majority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri said, "Our office is looking [at]. Mr. Gephardt continues to try to find accommodating schedules which will allow the House to work in an effective way, especially in times when there is a lot of business to accomplish. Mr. Gephardt has been trying to send advance schedules as early as possible so members can work around them."
IN his letter Mr. Dorgan asked for a rescheduling of when the House convenes, not shorter working days: "We know that you cannot always prevent evening sessions. We also know that the most important thing is to complete the work that we are responsible for. However, it seems to us that in many instances the leadership could choose to convene the House at an earlier hour so that we can finish by 6 p.m., and members of Congress could have a better chance of spending at least some of the evening hours at h ome with their families."