Most of the Time, Congress is in Recess!

Inside the US Senate

Here are some home truths about American Congress which you may find difficult to believe.

Most of the Time is Recess Time

One astonishing fact about the United States Congress is just how much vacation time they have. They have tried to distance themselves from the word “recess” but there is no mistaking the fact that for the majority of the year Congress is not in session. It really doesn’t matter what you call it, when you are only required to be at your place of work for on average 140 days a year that looks like vacation time to most Americans.

If you look at the actual figures for the amount of days that Congress was in session since 1977 it really makes you wish that you had a job with such great benefits. The average is just 140 days per year that Congress has been in session if you look at the figures for the last 40 years. There are some variations. 2011 was a bad year for vacation time, when Congress met for 170 days. The best time for down time was 2006 when Congress met for 101 days. That is less than one day out of every three in the year.

The Constitution really doesn’t help us out much here. If Congress took this literally it could be that there would be even more time that the doors to Congress are closed for recess. Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution states that Congress has to meet at least once a year. To see just how unhelpful and outdated this provision is we have to see the context in which it was written. The Constitution states that the meeting had to be on the first Monday in December. No problem with that you might think. Except you realize just how irrelevant this is when you learn that the reasoning behind this date. The reason was that most members of Congress needed to be back on their farm for the harvest. That really isn’t happening for too many members these days.

Perhaps we are being too harsh. If we look at other countries, we can see that some governments don’t even have to show up on as many as 140 days a year. Take Canada for example. If we look at the last decade their House of Commons has sat for an average of just 110 days of the year. In Australia the figure is even less with their House of Representatives spending just 70 days a year. The Senate in Australia meets on average for just 60 days.

Other countries do spend less time on vacation than the United States. The United Kingdom managed 158 days in 2015-16. The Mexican Parliament sits for 195 days of the year.

Some would say that we are being rather harsh in seeing days not spent in Congress as vacation time. We are sure that most members of Congress have other work to do. Well, we really hope so anyway.


Photo by ctj71081