On Vox's Polyarchy blog, Lee Drutman wrote about why the problem isn't how much time Congress spends working. Instead, it's Congress's modern structural problems of polarization and inadequate staffing.
Since the 1970s, partisan polarization has increased. Parties are further apart from each other, and less and less willing to compromise. And since, as Frances Lee convincingly argues, we’ve been in a period of unusually tight partisan competition since the 1980s, partisan teamsmanship has increased as a result. Neither side wants to work together because doing so undermines the chance that their side will either hold or win the majority.
Moreover, congressional staff capacity has been steadily declining since the 1980s. Congress simply has fewer staff members, especially in key committee policymaking positions. Congressional staff are essential. Read any major policy history and you will find that behind landmark legislation are dozens of hardworking staff, toiling intensely for months, more often years, to organize hearings and orchestrate complex compromises and deals and master difficult technical details. In many cases, members themselves only come in at the last minute.
It’s not the members’ time in Washington that matters in making policy. It’s their ability to hire and retain staff who can do the hard work necessary, and the underlying political conditions that make it easier for them to work out deals in the end.
While members of Congress like to portray themselves as heroic citizen legislators who do it all themselves, the perpetuation of this myth only makes things worse. It obscures the fact that they actually need considerable resources to represent their constituents well. It distracts from the reality that most of what they pretend is their “common sense” and “independent judgment” is just partisan teamsmanship. And it therefore naturally leads to the (wrong) conclusion: If they just all put in more work, they’d finally solve the problem.