Just when DOES Congress work?

by Leslie on October 6, 2010

Have you ever wondered when Congress works? I know I have!

It seems like every other day they are adjourning for recess, and thus are always either rushing to push some all-important bill through at the last minute or putting something unsavory off for later.

I decided to look it up, and found the staggering statistic that even factoring in the fact that there are only 260 days in a “work year” instead of 365 in a full year, Congress only works 52.6% of the time!

While researching I learned of this oddity of the Congressional schedule – “Travel Days.”

Originally Congress would stay in Washington half a year: December – May, and then travel home for the summer months. This was in part because summer in Washington without air conditioning was unbearable and in part because it took a full week for the farthest away members to get back to their States.

When it became easier to go back and forth to Washington after only a weekend at home Congress started canceling all votes on Mondays and Fridays to allow members to make it back in town. Thus, the work “week” starts on Tuesday but not until after 6:30 PM. Any days that are “no voting” travel days I count as off even though they aren’t technically recesses, and any days where the voting doesn’t start until 6:30 I count as “half days” when I do the tally.

The schedule of each session of Congress varies slightly, and they actually have been decreasing the number of 3 days weeks lately, but the general numbers hold across years.

According to official government sources, the 2010 Congressional schedule looks like this:

January: 31 days

  • Full working days (including weekends) – 7
  • Travel days (no voting) – 1
  • Half days (voting only after 6:30PM) – 2
  • RECESS DAYS – 20

Tally of days worked so far: 9/31

February: 28 days

  • Full working days – 12
  • Travel days – 6
  • Half days – 3
  • RECESS DAYS – 7

Tally so far: 21/59

March: 31 days

  • Full working days – 20
  • Travel days – 3
  • Half days – 4
  • RECESS DAYS – 4

There are TWO full 5 day weeks in March.
Tally so far: 41/90

April: 30 days

  • Full working days – 13
  • Travel days – 3
  • Half days – 3
  • RECESS DAYS – 11

There are some 4 days weeks in April.
Tally so far: 54/120

May: 31 days

  • Full working days – 21
  • Travel days – 5
  • Half days – 4
  • RECESS DAYS – 1

May is a busy month, only one day of recess!
Tally so far: 75/151

June: 30 days

  • Full working days – 19
  • Travel days – 2
  • Half days – 4
  • RECESS DAYS – 5

This is really getting crazy, another 5 day week in June.
Tally so far: 94/181

July: 31 days

  • Full working days – 20
  • Travel days – 1
  • Half days – 3
  • RECESS DAYS – 7

How could they be patriotic without a full SEVEN days off for the 4th of July week?
Tally so far: 114/212

August: 31 days

  • Full working days – 7
  • Travel days – 0
  • Half days – 1
  • RECESS DAYS – 23

Ahh, this makes up for all those full 5 days weeks.
Tally so far:121/243

September 30 days

  • Full working days – 11
  • Travel days – 4
  • Half days – 3
  • RECESS DAYS – 12

Had to work a week in August, and need at least a month off, so the Summer recess bled into September.
Tally so far: 132/272

October + November + December: 91 days

  • Full working days – 5
  • Travel days – 0
  • Half days – 0
  • RECESS DAYS – 0

Why are there no more days after October 5th? It’s because Congress is adjourned for the remainder of the season! They have off until January when they hit the ground running with three weeks of recess.

Final Counts:

  • Full working days – 137
  • Travel days – 25
  • Half days – 29
  • RECESS DAYS – 90

Final Tally: 137/365
37.5% of the year is spent with a full day of working.

If you discount weekends and holidays there are 260 work days each year.
Congress works 52.6% of a work year.

Now, I know that our Senators and Representatives are supposed to come home to their constituents during the recesses in order to keep a pulse on the people. That is fair, however there are no requirements for what they do during those off times and they can travel anywhere they want and hold as many or as few “town hall” events as they see fit. So there is no guarantee that they are listening to their voting base at all.

I think we need some reform.

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