Why Does the American Congress Have So Much Vacation Time?

The US Senate Building

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.

Photo by Larry1732