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?
Photo by Phil Roeder