That’s what Democrats are saying about U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the U.S. House, blasted the freshman lawmaker’s work schedule in a press release on Jan. 5. The Tennessee Democratic Party posted the release on its web site.
The release marked the anniversary of DesJarlais’ swearing-in as the congressman for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, which takes in Middle Tennessee and parts of East Tennessee. Identical press releases targeted other first-term Republicans.
"With so much work to do to get the economy back on track and Americans back to work," the release said, "DesJarlais is spending his one year anniversary on vacation – only working 6 days in all of January."
We contacted the DCCC and asked them to back up the claim. They pointed us to the official House calendar, which shows just six official work days in January: the 17th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, 25th and the 31st.
We then called DesJarlais’ office to see how he was spending his time away from Washington. DesJarlais’ spokesman, Robert Jameson, said being a congressman is a lot like being a doctor. Neither is a 9-to-5 job. DesJarlais, by the way, happens to be both.
In fact, Jameson said, only one day during the entire month of January was blocked off for the congressman’s personal use. The other days were spent meeting with constituents, talking with staff and taking care of other official business.
"To say he was on vacation is completely ridiculous," Jameson said. "Part of being an elected member of Congress is going back and talking to your constituents. One of the things the congressman has been very good at is maintaining an open dialogue with his constituents about what goes on up here in Congress."
Jameson even provided a few examples from the congressman’s work schedule for some of the days that the DCCC says he was on vacation.
On Monday, Jan. 9th, for example, DesJarlais met with business leaders and local legislators in Crossville. The next day, Jan. 10th, he met with "job creators" in Warren County and with county officials in White and Warren counties. The next day, Jan. 11th, he met with business leaders and constituents in Manchester. The following Monday, Jan. 16th, was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is a federal holiday, but the congressman met with business leaders in the Chattanooga area to discuss upcoming legislation.
"The principles of elected representation mean you need to go back and talk to constituents," Jameson said. "I really have a problem, and so does the congressman, with anybody categorizing this as vacation. They’re not sitting there hanging out all day. They are meeting with constituents, figuring out what their needs are and their priorities."
Our colleagues at PolitiFact Ohio recently looked into an identical claim against Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio. We think some of their points merit repeating:
"Travel days" and "home district periods" are facts of congressional life, whether the district time is used for constituent services, meetings or fundraising.
"To be sure, few members will head to the beach," The Christian Science Monitor noted last year. "Between fundraisers, town-hall meetings, and constituent services, they tend to work at least as hard out of session as they do in it."
Committees can meet and hold hearings during a recess. And congressional offices in Washington and in the district remain staffed and open, even if the House is not in session.
House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor drew criticism for setting a light, 109-day calendar for 2012. But the scheduled 123-day calendar for 2011 became 175 days in session, according to figures from the Office of the House Clerk. The 104-day calendar that a Democratic majority set for 2008 – another election year – became 119 days. House sessions have averaged 135 days since 2000.
Something else to consider: The legislative calendar is set not by individual members, but by Cantor and congressional leadership and is followed by all lawmakers, including Democrats. As Jameson points out, based upon the DCCC standard, Democrats also would have been working only six days in January.
Just because Congress is on recess does not mean that lawmakers are on vacation. To make such a charge is to imply that a congressman’s work ends whenever he or she leaves Washington – a totally ridiculous claim.
The DCCC is rehashing a favorite talking point that grossly distorts the congressional calendar. The DCCC offers no specifics to back this up other than the schedule. That's not just false, it's a ridiculous distortion. Pants on Fire!