Why It's Good for Congress to Go Home as Nation Heads Toward Default

For America's sake, please leave this building

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With an Aug. 2 deadline looming for U.S. debt default, lawmakers will head home for the weekend. Contrary to allegations of gross negligence, this is probably a good thing.

Debt-limit negotiations will continue in Washington between major players, but neither the House nor Senate will be in session. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted on Thursday that the House will adjourn for the weekend, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today on the Senate floor that the upper chamber won't be in session either, with no votes held until Monday evening.

Reid's announcement comes three days after he announced just the opposite, that "the Senate will stay in session every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, from now until Congress passes legislation that prevents the United States from defaulting on our obligations."

Since the Constitution mandates that tax bills begin in the House, today Reid figuratively shook his fists at his partisan others in the lower chamber:

"I think this is a very bad picture to have the House out this weekend when we have to likely wait for them to send us something, because as I understand the negotiations taking place deal with revenues which constitutionally have to start in the House," said Reid.

"I think it is just untoward," continued Reid. "That's the kindest word I can say. ... What a bad picture."

Despite this criticism, heading home will probably do lawmakers some good. There is a reason boxing matches involve round breaks. The ring girl parades around a bit, the fighters get yelled at and stitched up, and they head back to the ring just a bit refocused. There's something totalitarian and gross about a fight that keeps going without break. Nobody wants to see that. (At least not in America, on TV. Cockfights, I understand, are popular elsewhere and involve neither round breaks nor ring girls.)

What legislators need is an escape from the big, hot, airless Capitol. The high in D.C. today is 102 degrees Farenheit. Tomorrow, it's 103. And yes, the Capitol gets hot. Walking toward it from the nearest Metro station or parking facility, the top of the dome actually gets obscured by a thick, humid haze.

They need to go home, get yelled at by their constituents, and clear their heads. Washington can feel like an insane asylum where logic dissolves in rivulets of partisan rabies drool. Before big decisions get made, there is a lot of that drool sopping around. You can't walk down K St. without stepping in it. It's unhealthy.

Research on creativity and cognitive psychology has found that the gestation (or incubation) phase of problem-solving is critical. You confront the problem, analyze it, then leave it for a while. Associations form unconsciously during this period, producing new solutions and ideas. Light exercise helps. It's good, sometimes, to stop working.

A change in location might just break the front-brain thought patterns of our political leaders. In an ideal world, House Speaker John Boehner would return to Ohio and President Obama would spend a couple days in Hyde Park.

Insofar as locational and social contexts affect perspective, a House and Senate recess is probably best for everyone.

Image credit: AP