Just the Facts

Five Facts on the Congressional Schedule

By No Labels
July 23, 2019 | Blog

Members of Congress are in Washington only part of the week, the rest of the time they are on recess. The August recess is coming up in just a few weeks, so here are 5 facts on the congressional schedule. 

Members of Congress have two jobs – to represent constituents and to govern. This means splitting their time between two different places.[1] 

When members of Congress have to govern, they need to be at the Capitol in Washington D.C. with the rest of Congress. But in order to represent their constituents, members are required to spend time in their home districts or states. As a result, elected senators’ and representatives’ jobs require them to be in two different locations – sometimes on opposite sides of the country. 

The House and Senate each spend on average about 140 days in Washington per annual session of Congress. A work week in Washington is four or five legislative days, and can be a 70-hour week. 

After the four or five legislative days, Congress gets a two- or three-day recess when they can return home to their districts or states. Congress operates on this schedule for approximately three weeks, then they get an entire week back in their home districts. During a week in Washington, members attend meetings, hearings, briefings, interviews, legislative votes, fundraisers, lunches, and other special events.[2]

Congressional recess does not mean that members are not working. Members work out of their district and state offices during recess time, often working up to 59-hour weeks when in district. 

Recess weeks are often used for members to work out of their local offices, and hold town halls, meet with local groups, respond to constituent requests, and otherwise respond to the needs of their communities. During election years, recess time is also used for campaign activities such as fundraising and meeting with voters.[3] 

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 states that the House and Senate shall leave for recess no later than July 31 and return after Labor Day, giving members the chance to go home for the entire month of August.

The law mandating a long summer recess came after junior lawmakers with young families lobbied to make a predictable legislative calendar with designated vacation times. Extreme circumstances or presidential pressure can force Congress to shorten the recess or return for special sessions.[4] 

A recess deadline can be a positive force for lawmakers, but major decisions can also cause delays. 

Congress members are more likely to push important bills before a recess. Deadlines force Congress members to act in the face of a long break. However, if there is a deadlock on an important issue such as a funding bill, then Congress can be forced to postpone their recess until a bill is passed.[5] 

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