Silly Assumptions About the Job of Congressman

The Democrat and Chronicle's editorial board has two community members, a "liberal" and a "conservative".  This year's conservative is Petrena Hayes, who was formerly the Greece community blogger. 

Editorial board members publish occasional op-eds, and Petrena's first contribution complains about the current perqs enjoyed by Members of Congress.   Exile at Rochesterturning has a good critique of her essay, but I'd like to make another point.

Every Member of Congress in the Rochester area, with the exception of Louise Slaughter (NY-28), is in a hotly contested district.  The job of Congressman in a contested district is a tough job.  When you're not traveling back and forth between your district and DC, you're on the phone or at fundraisers begging for money.  In between, if you're Randy Kuhl, you're visiting every backwater town in the district, listening to people complain. 

The notion that any of these guys took the job because they wanted to workout at the House Gym and take advantage of the retirement benefits is ignorant.  Most Members of Congress have impressive resumes with post-graduate degrees.  If they were motivated primarily by greed, there are much quicker ways to make more money.  The motivations I see in our congressional delegation are a combination of altruism and ambition.    There are some lapses, such as Kuhl's recent junket, but Congressional perqs are distraction, not a major issue.

If you don't believe me, check out this story in the Atlantic Monthly. The full story is subscriber-only, but I've included a few choice excerpts after the break:
Sarah Feinberg, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman, estimates that incumbent members in a competitive race spend “twenty-five hours a week” fund-raising, while challengers devote “forty to fifty hours a week” to literally dialing for dollars.

In addition to the fourteen-hour workday [Heather] Wilson [R-NM-1] often puts in—soliciting money, sitting on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Intelligence Committee, and taking care of constituents—she faces a grueling weekly commute that takes seven hours each way (if all goes smoothly) between her studio in Washington and her full-time residence in Albuquerque. Wilson’s family is used to this: her daughter, Cait, was just over eighteen months old when her mother first won federal office [...] (When Cait was younger and would say “I want you” over the phone to Wilson, the congresswoman recalls, “it was almost physically painful.”)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi works fourteen-hour days whether or not Congress is in session. [...] Pelosi’s schedule between 1:15 p.m. on Friday, June 23, and 9:00 p.m. on Monday, June 26, featured stops in Providence; Cambridge, Massachusetts; San Juan; Pittsburgh; and Washington, D.C., and included five fund-raisers, three media appearances, two official meetings, one charity event, and a dinner for members of Congress that she hosted in her own home.

One of the only times former House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey got truly angry at his executive assistant was when she decided, in response to public criticism that lawmakers earned too much money, to calculate how much Armey earned an hour. She established that it averaged $3.57.