Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced over the weekend that he will not seek reelection in 2014, throwing wide open the race for a seat held for decades by the progressive leader.
"It's just time to step aside," he told the AP. Now 73, Harkin would be 81 at the end of a sixth term and he wants to use those years to bike across Iowa and take dancing lessons with his wife. But he also told the Washington Post that the Senate is just not as fun as it used to be — in part because of all the fundraising it takes to stay in office:
It’s not as much fun in that we’re so consumed with other things. Here’s what I mean — we used to have a Senate Dining Room that was only for senators. We’d go down there and sit around there, and Joe Biden and Fritz Hollings and Dale Bumpers and Ted Stevens and Strom Thurmond and a bunch of us — Democrats and Republicans. We’d have lunch and joke and tell stories, a great camaraderie. That dining room doesn’t exist any longer because people quit going there. Why did they quit going? Well, we’re not there on Monday, and we’re not there on Friday. Tuesday we have our party caucuses. That leaves Wednesday and Thursday — and guess what people are doing then? They’re out raising money.
The time is so consumed with raising money now, these campaigns, that you don’t have the time for the kind of personal relationships that so many of us built up over time. So in that way, fun, I don’t know, there needs to be more time for senators to establish personal relationships than what we are able to do at this point in time.
Harkin isn't the only member of Congress exhausted by a post-Citizens United workday that prioritizes call time with donors over sitting in congressional hearings. The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui reported last month on a bleak message given to incoming freshmen Democrats:
The daily schedule prescribed by the Democratic leadership contemplates a nine or 10-hour day while in Washington. Of that, four hours are to be spent in "call time" and another hour is blocked off for "strategic outreach," which includes fundraisers and press work. An hour is walled off to "recharge," and three to four hours are designated for the actual work of being a member of Congress — hearings, votes, and meetings with constituents.
As the cost of congressional campaigns continues to rise, members of Congress may find it even harder to do their jobs while raising the millions of dollars needed to keep them. Meanwhile, Congress has a historically low approval rating of 14 percent and just finished its most unproductive session since the 1940s. Here are some lawmakers who'd like to see time spent differently: