Lately, the “joke” is that Congress does more good when it’s NOT in session. Prior to the beginning of the 20th century, those days out of Washington and back in their home states were much more frequent.
Until that time, according to the Congressional Research Service, Congress was in session less than half of the year. Article I of the Constitution said Congress only had to meet once a year, beginning on the first day of December.
So how did it become a full-time gig?
Technological upgrades, like the installation of air conditioning in the Capitol building after World War II, saw Congress begin to meet regularly in the summer and fall. The increased availability of reliable roads and transportation was a contributing factor. Also, today’s career politicians, unlike the career farmers of the early days of Congress, don’t need to be home for the spring planting and summer harvest.
The ratification of the 20th amendment to the Constitution in 1933 gave more specifics to when Congress should meet, as it delineated the beginning and ending terms of elected federal offices. The amendment moved Congress’ first meeting day to noon on January 3 (instead of the first day of December, as outlined in Article I).
The amendment still says they only have to meet once a year. Of course, the issues that Congress deals with today are more complex and usually require more time. According to the web site of the U.S. Representatives Office of the Clerk, the “total days” for Congress in 2009 was 352. Total days is defined as the time between the convening and adjourning dates. There were six recesses that each lasted between a week and 17 days.
That’s not a lot of time spent on the home front.
Primary election results in some states showcased the tough road that congressional incumbents may be facing in the November elections, demonstrating that constituents may be unsure that their representatives are in tune with the needs of their home districts.
So what do you think? More time in Washington or, in our case, senators and reps “back home in Indiana” to reconnect with the people they represent?