Why Does the American Congress Have So Much Vacation Time?

One of the very real concerns for the American people is how much time that Congress spends in session. In a time when there seems to be an ever increasing amount of issues to be dealt with why does Congress spend most of the time on recess? Is 140 days a year really enough to get things done?  Many sources report on Congress’ long vacation times such as: Slate, thehill.com, constitutioncenter.org, and CNN.

The average American spends 250 days at work. They have an average of 10 days of holiday from their job, but many Americans do not take all of their allocated vacation time. There are 104 weekend vacation days and usually at least 10 federal holidays.

Contrast this with the number of days that Congress spends in session. If you look at the average number of days which Congress has met since 1977 the number works out to 140 days per year. There are huge variations each year. Usually election year results in even more time off for Congress in the build up to the decision as to who will be the next President.

In recent years Congress had most time off in 2006, when they met for just 101 days. The longest working year for Congress in the last 40 years has been in 2011 when they met for 170 days.

Yearly differences aside, if you take the usual number of days worked in Congress it is 140. This is 110 days less than the average American who spends 250 days at work. That is a difference of over three and a half months!

The Constitution doesn’t help very much. Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution states that Congress has to meet at least once a year. Originally that meeting had to be on the first Monday in December. The reason for this date was to accommodate members of Congress who had to be at home on the farm for the harvest.

We are guessing that not many members of Congress really need to get back to their farm to bring in the crops these days. The date is now January 3, but can be any date that Congress deems suitable. In other words, there is no Constitutional requirement for Congress to meet for a minimum number of days in the year – just that they meet on at least one day.

The actual figures can’t be denied. On average, Congress meets for 140 days of the year. Is this an acceptable amount of time for Congress to meet? Is the vacation time justified? It can be very frustrating to see the lack of progress which Congress makes and then realize that Congress doesn’t actually meet for the vast majority of the year.

What is the justification for the long vacation time? That it isn’t vacation time. Congress may only meet for 140 days a year on average, but that does not mean that Senators and Members of the House are sitting around doing nothing and taking vacations in The Hamptons. Well not all the time anyway.

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More Things You Didn’t Know About American Congress

Real Estate is the Investment of Choice

Members of Congress are highly likely to invest a great deal of their money into stocks and shares. However, by far the largest amount of that money is going into real estate. Perhaps they know something that we don’t.

In terms of investment in stock in listed companies there are definitely some which are more popular than others. General Electric is the most popular choice. There are other familiar names which probably come as no surprise including Apple, Microsoft, Pfizer, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Co, Wells Fargo and Verizon Communications. Exxon Mobile is also the investment of choice for many in Congress.

Members of Congress Do Not Get an Automatic Pay Increase

This one may surprise you, but Congress keeps voting against giving themselves an automatic pay increase. The Ethics Reform Act of 1989 allowed for Congress to receive a pay increase every year. Surprisingly in the last 25 years Congress has approved the increase 13 times, but said no to an increase 11 times. We have to say this one takes some thinking about as not many people would vote against their own pay increase!

Some in Congress argue that the cost of living in Washington is prohibitive and that there should be a fairer system which factors in a housing stipend. Those Senators with an average net worth of $2.8 million probably aren’t quite so interested in arguing too much for this.  For this year’s pay raise, check out this congressional bill.

It Costs a Lot of Money to Get into Congress

A tour of the Capitol Building may still be free to all, but the cost of a seat in Congress is not getting any cheaper.

It is estimated that in 2012 winning a seat in the House cost around $1.6 million. This is largely a rich man’s game (women are still very much the minority in Congress). The costs of campaigning can vary wildly. Strangely, it actually seems to costs you more to lose your seat than to gain it in some cases. Members of Congress who are trying to hold onto their seat spend way more money on average than those trying to gain a seat for the first time.

If you want to win a seat in the Senate you better make sure that you have a whole lot of resources to get you there. The average cost of a campaign was $10.4 million in 2012.

Congress Has Vacations That the Rest of America Can Only Dream About

Congress has a lot of recess time. If you look at the figures for the last 40 years, the average time which Congress spent in session is just 140 days per year. That means that there were 225 days of the year that the doors to Congress were closed.

Some years were better than others. 2011 was not a good time for vacation time in Congress – they met for 170 days leaving just 195 days for recess. However, the best year in recent times for members of Congress to do other thigs was in 2006 when they were required to be in their seats for just 101 days. That is a little over three months of the year.

Of course, we are not suggesting that members of Congress have nothing to do when not in session. We have no doubt that staying in touch with the electorate, campaigning and fund raising are all very time consuming. Perhaps that vacation in The Hamptons is not on the top of their list of things to do. What do you think?

 

 

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Things You Didn’t Know About American Congress

We may think that we know a lot of things about politics, but here are some things that may surprise you about American Congress. These things range from the incredibly trivial to the deeply concerning. Let’s start with one of the least worrying of the things that you probably didn’t know about Congress. The rest are unfortunately not quite so worry free.

There is a Stash of Candy in the Senate

Who knew that members of Congress had a supply of candy right there on the Senate floor? The Candy Desk tradition started in 1965 when Senator George Murphy of California decided to indulge the sweet toothed tendencies of his fellow senators. He kept a stash of candy inside the desk in his office. The tradition caught on and ever since there has been a desk of candy in the Senate. If you want to know where to find it, you head to the back row on the Republican side of the Senate.

The Candy Desk flouts the rule that there should be no eating on the Senate floor. Senator Mark Kirk is the current keeper of the desk. He ensures that it is well supplied with Mars Bars and gum.

A Convicted Felon Can Serve in the Senate

There are many restrictions on what a convicted felon can do. There are certain jobs which they cannot hold, such as a teacher, a law enforcement officer and they cannot become a member of the United States Military. You may be surprised to learn that there is nothing stopping them from being a member of Congress. There is absolutely no provision in the Constitution, or the general legislation which means that a member of Congress is automatically barred from holding office because he is a convicted felon.

The Average Member of Congress is Wealthy and Some Are Super Rich

On average the members of Congress have a net worth in excess of $1 million. There are some who have far greater wealth than a mere $1 million. Not only are members of Congress much richer than the average American, but there are increasing their wealth much faster than the general population. Since 2007 the wealth of the average American has decreased in real terms by 43%. Members of Congress have increased their wealth since that time by on average 28%.

Senators have by far the most wealth in Congress. The average net worth of a member of the Senate is $2.8 million. Some Senators are faring very much better than that. Senator Darrell Issa of California is worth an estimated $450 million. There is no one really close to him in terms of wealth, but Senator Mark Warner is not short of a penny or two with a net worth of $254 million.

 

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How Does the Amount of Vacation Around the World Compare to America’s Congress?

It is interesting to compare numbers from around the world to see if American Congress is alone in the number of vacation days that it has. They certainly get way more than a furnace repair tech in Trenton, New Jersey!  We may be quick to complain here, but is it really so unusual for the government of a country to meet for less than one third of the year? If we take a look at the figures from other countries, we quickly find that 140 days a year is looking like a whole lot of work for Congress in comparison.

Canada’s House of Commons has sat for an average of 110 days of the year if we look at the last decade. Their provincial legislatures sit for considerably less time in a year with an average of just 54 days each year.

The United Kingdom comes out as one of the hardest working, with the House of Commons spending 158 days in session in 2015-16. The House of Lords sat for a less impressive 126 days in the same year. The House of Lords days in session varied widely in the last decade, with the lowest being 68 days and the highest a staggering 293.

The Mexican Parliament sits for 195 days which, although impressive in a world context, is relatively low amongst Latin American countries.

If we want to feel a lot better about the working hours of American Congress you just have to look at Australia. Their House of Representatives sits for 70 days a year on average. The Australian Senate meets for around 60 days every year.

New Zealand is not that much different to Australia in terms of how many days their parliament meets., although they do manage around 90 days each year.

These facts and figures show us that American is definitely not alone in having a high number of vacation days from Congress.

Those who are defending the amount of time that Congress is out on vacation would say that in reality the elected officials are still working hard. When they are in Congress their average working week is around 70 hours, which is almost twice that of the average American. They point out that their time in session in Congress is just a part of the work that they do.

What exactly are members of Congress doing on the days when they are not in session? The answer which is most often presented in their defense, is that they are back in their constituencies meeting with the people and defining how they can best serve the interests of the people who they represent. The people who only get 10 days a year vacation time from work.

There is also work to be done outside of Congress to actually get things passed inside Congress. Of course there is fund raising to do, and the need to be campaigning so that they will get re-elected. So it isn’t just all about the hours that are spent in Congress.

There is no doubt that being in Congress is not the only work which representatives actually do. However, the question is whether or not the balance is right. With a seemingly ever declining amount of progress being made in Congress, is a simple solution to increase the number of days it is actually in session?

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How to Get a Ticket to Tour the US Capitol Building

How Do I Get a Ticket to Tour the Capitol Building?

You can get a ticket by standing in line on the day that you visit, but this is definitely not the recommended route. You may not even get the chance to get a tour if you arrive at a busy time, which is usually during the summer and school vacation time. The best way is to book in advance. Either way your ticket is free.

You can make a ticket reservation up to three months ahead of the time that you want to visit. There are a couple of different ways to do this. You can reserve your ticket online by yourself. It is a very easy process. Book as far in advance as possible as tours do get booked up ahead of time.

However, we suggest that the best way to reserve your tour is to go through your Senator or Representative’s office. You can do this online. This has a couple of advantages. The biggest advantage of getting tickets in this way is that you can also get tickets for the gallery of Congress. This is a fascinating way to actually see Congress in session. This really is a not to be missed experience if you get the opportunity.

Remember that Congress is only in session for around 140 days of the year so you will need to time your visit accordingly if this is an important part of your Washington experience.

The other advantage of booking through a Senator or Representative is that you will be given a guided tour of the Capitol by one of their interns. In general, this is a better experience than the general tours. Usually the tour groups are much smaller than they are for the general public so you get a better experience, and much more time to ask questions if you want to.

Visitors generally report a much better experience with a smaller tour group and you will only get that opportunity if you get your tickets through your Senator or Representative. You will find that the quality of the tour guides varies quite a lot, but generally it is more likely that you will have a better experience if you book in this way.

 

 

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How to Tour the United States Capitol Building

One of the things which really should be on every American’s bucket list is to tour the Capitol Building and see American Congress in session. The U.S. Capitol building should most certainly be on the top of anyone’s “must see” list when they visit Washington D.C. The experience is free to everyone. It does take a little planning. It is always best to find out what there is to see, so that you get the most out of your visit.

There are a number of parts to the experience and here we show you how to experience each element. You should expect to spend at least two to three hours touring the Capitol Building.

How to Tour the U.S. Capitol Building

In order to get the most out of your experience you should plan ahead. There are tickets available on the day, but it is much better to get them in advance. All tickets to take a tour of the Capitol Building are available free of charge to all visitors.

The free ticket includes a guided tour of the Capitol Building. The scheduled tours start at 8.30 am. and the last tour leaves at 3.20 pm.

As you would expect, you do have to go through a security inspection before you enter the Capitol Building. You will not only be checked for weapons, but other prohibited items such as food and drinks. Make sure you leave your snacks outside the building! This process can take some time, particularly during the summer months when visitor levels are at their highest.

We suggest that before you start your tour you go to the Visitor’s Center. The $621 million Visitor’s Center opened in 2008. It is well worth a visit when you are touring the Capitol Building. There are lots of interesting exhibits in the Visitor’s Center. These include a model of the Dome, a copy of the famous John F. Kennedy speech which promised to put a man on the moon, and a model which was used to construct the Statue of Freedom. You can certainly spend quite a lot of time looking around the Visitor’s Center.

Predictably there is also a gift shop and a restaurant in the Visitor’s Center. There are some interesting items in the gift shop. The restaurant is not particularly great and the prices are rather inflated.

The Capitol tour starts with a video presentation. It’s not particularly memorable, but serves as a good introduction to the walking tour.

One of the stops on the free tour is in the Capitol Rotunda. Tourists will be shown the unique acoustic effect of this part of the building where speakers can be heard from far away.

Visitors will also be interested to see the many painting and statues inside the building. Amongst the most interesting of these are the paintings of “The Landing of Columbus” and “The Baptism of Pocahontas.”

The National Statuary Hall is another one of the highlights of the tour. This was originally built to house two statues from each state. Even though the room is pretty large there really isn’t enough room for one hundred statues, so many are displayed in other areas of the Capitol Building.

You will also be able to see The Crypt and the National Sanctuary Hall. The walking tour lasts around 45 minutes.

There are additional tours available which include an outdoor tour. These are scheduled to take place every day of the week expect Sunday. There are two tours which leave at 10 am and 11 am. These walking tours last around 50 minutes and take the visitor around the Capitol grounds. This is an excellent additional tour to take if you have the time.

 

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Congress Does What? Things You Can’t Believe…

Congress Has a Long Vacation

One staggering statistic about Congress is just how much of the year it is not in session. If you take the average amount of days per year which Congress has met since 1977 you will find that the figure is just 140 days. Considering that most Americans spend around 250 days at work per year we have to wonder just exactly why Congress gets so much vacation time.

The American Constitution does not have much to say about the subject of how often that Congress should meet. In order to comply with Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution, Congress only has to meet one day of the year. If you look at the last 40 years, the most days in session for Congress was 170 days in 2011. A particularly lazy year in recent times was in 2006 when Congress met for just 101 days out of the year.

Why does Congress have such a long vacation? Supporters of this work schedule would say that attending Congress is only a very small part of what senators and representatives have to do to fulfil their role. They need to spend time back in the community making sure that they are in touch with the people who voted for them in order that they can best serve them in Congress. There is also the need for fund raising and political campaigning. Of course, the Hamptons and the Bahamas are really nice over the summer recess too.

Lobbying is Big Business

Lobbying is very big business in Congress. In 2015 $3.2 billion dollars was spent on lobbying in the United States Congress. That is more than the Gross Domestic Product of some small countries! It is thought that about $2.6 billion of this money came from corporations and the rest from individuals.

To put these figures into an even more concerning context, let us consider how much the combined budget is for Congress. At just under $2 billion for the Senate and the House we can really see just what a colossal amount of money corporations are spending on lobbying.

Lobbying is of course a very controversial subject. It has effectively been going on for as long as politics and government have existed, but the dollar numbers now make it a concern for many people. Large corporations have very large budgets which they can put into hiring more and more lobbyists.

Some corporations hire as many as 100 lobbyists to put over their point of view. That is a whole lot of potential influence for one company. With that much money being spent by a relatively small pool of corporations, this is a huge concern to many people.

 

 

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3 Things About Congress That Will Surprise You

Here are some things that you may not know about Congress which we think may surprise you.

Congress is Getting Richer and Richer

This one you may not be particularly surprised at, but members of Congress are getting richer and richer at a remarkable pace. According to Congressional financial disclosures, in 2013 the net worth of members of Congress was an average of $1 million. There are many who are much wealthier than that of course.

If we put in into context with the overall wealth of the American people, the figures become a little more concerning. The wealth of the average American is down 43% since 2007. Members of Congress are doing way better than the average American. Their net worth has increased a massive 28% since 2007. They are obviously doing something right that the rest of us are missing!

Senators fare much better than Representatives. The average net worth of a member of the Senate was $2.8 million. The average net worth of a member of the House of Representatives was far less at just $843,500.

Women in Congress

Although today there are more women in Congress than at any other time in history, they still remain a minority. In there were just 104 women in Congress. Of these there were 76 Democrats and 28 Republicans. As there are 535 members this means that women make up just 19.4% of the United States Congress.

There are 100 members of the United States Senate and just 20 of them are women. There are 84 women in the United States of Representatives – so this is just 19.3%.

Whilst these figures are still not great, we can take some small consolation in the fact that the trend of having women in Congress is increasing. Over time there have only been 278 women who have served in the House of Representatives. The majority of these have been elected since 1992. Jeannette Rankin was the first women ever to be elected to Congress. She was elected to serve in the House of Representatives in 1917.

Surprisingly only 46 women have ever served in the Senate. There is fortunately an upward trend in the number of women being elected to the United States Senate as 23 of those women were elected after 1996. Rebecca Latimer Felton was the first women to be elected to the Senate. She was elected in 1922, but served for only one day.

In the history of Congress, most of the women who have served and who are still serving, are white. The first Asian American woman representative was Patsy Mink who was elected on January 1965. Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman representative. She started her term in the house on 3 January 1969. The first Hispanic American woman was not elected to Congress until 1989. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen took office on 29 August 1989.

Technological Advances

The United States has seen many technological advances since the 1st Congress. It is amazing to think that it wasn’t until 1880 that the House of Representatives had a phone installed. This was of course early for its time, as most America households did not have this luxury until many years later.

We are now used to watching Congress on television, but it is not that many years ago that the only communication for the public was in the form of radio broadcasts. The first broadcast was almost 100 years ago on 19 December 1922.

It was not until after the end of World War II that there were any television broadcasts from Congress. The first televised broadcast was during the opening session on the 80th Congress on 3 January 1947. We wonder what the viewing figures for that were!

It took many years before the first live broadcast from Congress was televised. The world had to wait until 19 March 1979 to see a live broadcast. Albert Gore Jr was the first Member of Congress ever to speak on the live television broadcast.

 

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