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

Tally so far: 21/59

March: 31 days

  • Full working days – 20
  • Travel days – 3
  • Half 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

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

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

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

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.


MJK October 15, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I live and work around DC and you can tell when Congress is in (or coming into) session because the traffic becomes that much more congested. I didn't realize that they had recess from the beginning of October all the way until January… No wonder my commutes have been (relatively) lighter!

There are also a lot of government agencies that do truncated weeks like 4 – 9 hr days and a half day on friday or 4 – 10 hour days and friday off I also think there are some that do 4-9's and and 8 on the first friday and then 4-9's and the following friday off. Of course traffic around here is just terrible any way, but you can tell the friday's that people have off because traffic flows so much better! (little less stop, little more go!)

– On a side note, I can't wait to move!
My recent post September Goals – Update!

Rhonda Gammon January 18, 2011 at 11:02 am

Thanks for the information. I was looking for this information when I came across your site.

scott kurtz February 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I think that all of CONGRESS need to take a Pay CUT !!!!!! A 47.4% CUT because of the days they work, or lack of…
They only work 137 day out of 360!!!!! If you discount weekends and holidays there are 260 workday each year.
That is only 52.6% of the work year.

Michael Anderson May 19, 2011 at 10:54 am

In 1790, when DC was first created, there was only horse and wagon for transportation. Long distance communication was pony express. Telegraph didn’t even exist. A central location for representatives to meet made sense, and DC was approximately in the center. With internet and teleconferencing fully implemented, DC is no longer necessary. Secure communications with voice recognition, fingerprint identification, even cornea or retina scanning can assure more secure identification than what occurs in DC right now. Members of congress can do their jobs from home office/communication centers more effectively, close to the people they represent. Washington DC should become a museum where representatives meet rarely for special occasions, not for the day to day operation of government. Close DC. Send the representatives home.

James Geralden September 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Every once in a while I come across an idea I think is worth acknowledging. This is one of them. You get your congresspeople out of the toxic atmosphere that is Washington. They become more accessible to the people that elect them instead of the lobbyist. Sounds like a win-win.

Becky A September 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Great idea about telecommuting! I wish there was a way to make them ACTUALLY work for all that money. A part of their high wages was due to the distance they have to be from home when they meet – of course, they reimburse themselves for travel expenses too, but if they stay home and become available to the constituents, they might find out that there image at home is not at all favorable – maybe that would lead to a little more responsibility – maybe even reasonable work ethics.

Susan D August 21, 2011 at 11:24 pm

If there were no representatives in Washington D. C., what would happen to all the lobbyist? Could it be that they would have to listen to the people for a change?

Jim September 8, 2012 at 8:28 pm

great point!!

Jerrie February 14, 2012 at 10:42 am

This is appalling. They should be paid for time worked only. Their pay should be reasonable not the lavious salary they are accustom to. Shame on you!!!

dino tigert March 22, 2012 at 1:53 am

Who knows when the first budget was passed, that envolved the u.s. recieving loans from communist countries. I have to believe thats high treason.with the penalties for that crime being death.
there is no reason we should not round up every person who signed and agreed on borrowing moneys from any country and find them guilty of high treason and sentence them accordingly.in case government workers dont get it,”ALL OF YOU ARE OVERHEAD” when the money runs out your check runs out, that would also help on the outragous government spending. has any one ever checked out the government pay scale. hell the only reason most of them work in government is because you can basically do nothing and its almost impossible to get fired.with all the benifits and holidays and early retirement “wtf”.when a budget is made it should cover our military first and formost. after that all of the outer space bull crap and all this free grant and welfare money is crazy.and when they get done if there is money left then and only then should congress get a check.borrowing money so congress can get paid to put it to us is insane.i could go on for ever but i wont, i just think they should be held accountable for their unexcusable actions against this country.

scooder January 28, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Wow. Just. Wow.

Jim September 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm

This congress is nothing but a bunch of labor fakers – when they are there they get nothing done -what can the citizens of this country do to get these lazy fat cats out of office??!!

harold berry November 14, 2012 at 6:29 pm

i would like to sign are start a petition to extend the work weeks to 5 days and reduce other days off

dirk November 18, 2012 at 7:06 am

While the times “in session” may be accurate this is a VERY shallow view of the “work done”… If your Congressman is not spending time in their district with those they represent the way they should be THEN VOTE THEM OUT…. Time back in districts is critically important else they quickly lose touch with those they represent and become Washington “out of touch” politicians… Get involved in the political process in your District… I know my Congressman in my District and he is out all the time in our District when he is not in Washington… Very in touch… Very easy to approach… That’s how it’s supposed to be. – Dirk

Bob McEvoy February 15, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I believe congress is destined to work 6 more days in 2013, thus about 126. 2010 they “worked”137.
When is America going to learn that the only reason these (choose your word Most are up there for one thing: the benefits they inherit after one term — even if they are in prison, e.g. Rep Duke Cunningham, ex Navy ace. Screw the tea party and both legitimate parties. Let’s get bills passed and work done.

Do we need a violent revolution? Why can’t they learn compromise? Why is a GOP paralyzed by that clown Norquist? Why can’t the “palsie” boys Graham and McCain quit their posturing and force action. I think we need more ex-military in there with the old can-do attitude of (1) What do we need to do, (2) How we going to get there , and (3) how long this is this going to take. By the way, I definitely exclude McCain. Bring back Patraeus, McChristal, Zinni and Newhold– (the last two resigned their commissions after constantly dealing with the neocons and inepttitude of congress.)
No raise for all of congress this year. Put them on Carnival Triumph for a couple of weeks and don’t let them back in country till they enact legisation for the American people

gitch July 23, 2013 at 8:42 pm

The first thing to do is cut the pay in half for Congressmen and Senators and the President of the US. Then congress should be in session only 120 days with no vacations in between. After the 120 days is over, congress goes home and goes to there regular job.

Ron Harding October 11, 2013 at 9:24 am

Increasingly, people are saying throw all congress and those long-timers out of Washington FOREVER!

After everything has happened it shows that the politicians are incompetent boobs who are not doing the job that they were elected to do.

Replace ALL OF THEM with regular working ‘joes’ (who do not need to have lot’s of money to get in and it is just a regular job, no extra pay). Also no more career politicians! only 2 year contract.

Heck, I was out of work for over 2 years on the so called Economic Recession. I could have served in Washington during that time. So how about that idea, why not replace all of them with the nation’s unemployed?

So I ask you U.S. patriots, ‘what is the roadmap that we need to work on to make this happen?’

time to take action folks, get tough!


Teresa Simmons February 15, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Why doesn’t Congress get paid for the days they work and with the leftover money could probably the unemployed people !!! It is totally ridiculous the breaks they get !!!! They make way to much money for doing very little. It makes me so mad since I have looked for work since Jan 2013. I will be 58 in a few days and when you are older in America, you are disposable !!! They have no regard for us !! I have sent over 150 resumes wifh my last 2 jobs totaling 23 years and I can’t even get a job at CVS or Walgreens or a call center. It is maddening !!!!! Congress you should be ashamed while people live in their car and have no food or heat. !!!? I bet if we need money to help some other country, tgrywpx find it !!!!!! I am just so fed up !!!! Feeling like moving out of the US !!!

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