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On the clock, out of the Capitol: 2014 House calendar shortest in years

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WASHINGTON – The House will meet just 113 days next year, 25 days fewer than this year and the least since 2006, according to the 2014 calendar released last week by House leaders.

But lawmakers defended the calendar, saying that just because they’re not in Washington doesn’t mean they’re not working.

“I’m always in session” despite what the calendar shows, said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott.

When he is not in Washington, Gosar said he spends most of his time driving to meetings in the sprawling 4th District he represents in northwest Arizona.

“I live in my car. I have clothes in here,” said Gosar, who called from the road this week to talk about the calendar. He said the time in the district lets him talk with constituents and see how congressional legislation affects them.

For Gosar, the 2014 schedule is a good thing, giving him more time to spend with those voters back home. It also means Congress has to be serious when it is in session and really get things done, he said.

Time in the district was one of the major justifications cited by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor when he released the 2014 calendar last week.

The number of days in session fluctuates from congressional calendar to congressional calendar: In 2011, Congress met for 177 days, which fell to 153 days in 2012 and 138 that were scheduled this year, according to the Library of Congress website.

Legislative days typically dip in an election year, and 2014 is no exception. The calendar will give members plenty of time for campaigning back home, with the House in session just 12 days from Aug. 1 to Election Day on Nov. 4.

The 2014 calendar calls for at least one full week off every month except July, when lawmakers are scheduled to work all month before taking recess for all of August. But the regular weekly breaks were scheduled on purpose, Cantor said in a statement.

“This calendar … ensures that we, as elected officials, never lose touch with our constituents while completing our work here in Washington,” Cantor wrote in a letter to House members.

Spending time back home Monday through Friday lets members get to see how businesses are run and to learn the problems they face. Cantor said he took suggestions from lawmakers into consideration as he drew up the 2014 schedule, which reflects what they said.

But even with so many days away from the Capitol, House members will still put in more than the normal 40-hour workweek, according to study released earlier this year.

The March study by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Congressional Management Foundation said House members work an average of 59 hours a week when they are away from Washington and 70 hours a week when in D.C.

“They recognize they signed up for a very unique job,” said Brad Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation. Being in Congress means your schedule is full all the time, Fitch said.

The report said when Congress is not in session, members spend the bulk of their time with constituents and that “personal time” accounts for only a fraction of their hours back home.

“They (congressmen) have a vested interest in what constituents feel,” Fitch said, but they have to balance their responsibilities to both legislate and represent their constituents.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said that balancing act will be critical: With much work still unfinished from the first session of the 113th Congress, lawmaker will have to “take full advantage of the days we are in session” in 2014.

Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, agreed. While House members should be back home as much as possible, he said, they also need to be willing to put in time in Washington, too.

This Congress is one of the least productive in decades, according to Barber. With fewer days in session this year, he said he fears even less could get done next year.

“I believe we should be working more days, not less,” Barber said. “We need to earn our salaries.”