Just the Facts
Five Facts on the August Recess
By No Labels
June 6, 2018 | Blog
For those who have experienced Washington, D.C., in the summer, it is no surprise that Congress—and the rest of the city—evacuates in August in order to avoid the heat and humidity. Apart from providing a break from the stifling temperatures, the lull in late summer activity gives legislators and their staff a chance to return to their home states and meet with constituents. But on June 5, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), announced he would be canceling three weeks of the scheduled four weeks of recess in August. Here are 5 facts on the history of the recess and why McConnell’s decision matters:
The August recess was formalized in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970
During the late 1960s the Senate debated formalizing a congressional recess. Split along generational lines, younger members, led by Gale McGee (D-WY), wanted the August break to spend time with their families and visit constituents. However, the older members wanted to conclude the legislative agenda during summer and avoid spending the fall in Washington. Although McGee was not the first senator to propose formalizing the summer break, he was the one who ultimately prevailed in securing the annual August recess.
The last time the August recess was officially canceled was in 1994
The Democratic-controlled Senate took this step in an attempt to push through President Bill Clinton’s health care reforms. They were ultimately unsuccessful, as they were not able to use the extra time to gather more support for the president’s health care reform.
In 2004, the United States Senate reconvened during the August Recess to hold hearings on the recent release of the 9/11 Commission report
Unlike 1994, and what is expected to occur this August, this was not a legislative session. Instead, lawmakers invited relevant parties to testify, using the session as an opportunity to publicly discuss all matters investigated in the report.
McConnell said he hopes to use the August session to gain headway on appropriations bills and the confirmation of presidential nominees
In his statement, McConnell laid much of the blame at the feet of Senate Democrats, arguing they have stymied many of President Trump’s nominees. It has also been suggested that canceling the recess is a strategic measure meant to reduce the amount of time Democratic senators may have to campaign for midterm re-elections in their home states.
Despite losing valuable time on the campaign trail, Senate Democrats are embracing McConnell’s decision
With the 2018 elections fast-approaching, McConnell’s decision significantly hinders Senators’ ability to return home, reconnect with constituents, and attend campaign events. However, many Democrats are publicly embracing the extra work period. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), responded to the decision, stating, “This previously unscheduled session time can be put to good use” to continue the Senate’s efforts to reform health care.