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Fun Congressional Recess Facts

Fun Congressional Recess Facts

As of yesterday, both the House and the Senate are in “recess” for the upcoming week of President’s Day. A quick glance at the congressional calendar for the year shows that about twenty recess weeks, or state work periods, are scheduled for 2024. This number is a little higher than normal due to the presidential election, which means we will see longer recesses in July and August to account for party conventions, and a longer recess in October for campaigning purposes.

Where does recess come from?
The concept of “recess” and “adjournment” in Congress has changed over time. Currently, a congressional session runs for one year, from January 3 to some time in December. However, from 1789 until the 1930s Congress convened for its first regular session in December and typically adjourned in spring or midsummer. After months away from Washington, members of Congress would return for a short second session in December that adjourned on March 3.

Occasionally, extraordinary sessions or the demands of war kept Congress in session longer, but generally senators agreed with Vice President John Nance Garner, who reportedly proclaimed, “No good legislation ever comes out of Washington after June.” In 1933 the adoption of the 20th Amendment moved the start of each Congress to January. Congress was meant to adjourn by the last day in July, but the growth of the federal government following the Great Depression meant that legislative sessions often last until October.

Throughout the 1960s there were several efforts from various members to enact congressional calendar reform, but it required agreement between both the House and the Senate. It was not until October 1970 that Congress passed the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, which mandated that in odd-numbered years both the House and Senate adjourn for a summer recess in August. On August 6, 1971, the Senate began its first official summer recess.

While the statute did not mandate a break in even-numbered years—senators chose to maintain flexibility during campaign seasons—the Senate took shorter breaks in August of election years and, beginning in the 1990s, began taking longer August breaks every year. Since then, recesses around other major holidays have grown in popularity as a chance for members to go home and spend time in their communities, especially during election years.

During these weeks, the Senate does not actually adjourn. If, like your AFSA team, you are an avid C-SPAN viewer, you might notice that every three days, a single senator gavels in on the floor, opening a “pro-forma” session. These sessions typically only last a few minutes, and no legislative business is conducted. The Senate began this practice under former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who wanted to block former President George W. Bush from making recess appointments. A recess appointment is made by a president to fill a federal position when the U.S. Senate is in recess as a way to circumvent the advise and consent process in the Senate while the body is away for months at a time. This process has been overused by president before.

In 1903 President Teddy Roosevelt made 193 recess appointments during what he called a “constructive recess” that had lasted only a few seconds. In modern presidential history, President Ronald Reagan made 232 recess appointments during his eight years in office. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each made well over 100. That power was limited in 2014 as a result of the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning.

In 2012 President Barack Obama, who had made over 30 recess appointments during his time in office, appointed three individuals to the NLRB and Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during a three-day recess. The Supreme Court ruled that recesses needed to be longer than 10 days to trigger the validity of a recess appointment. This ruling did not affect CFPB Director Cordray, as he had been confirmed by the Senate by then. Neither President Donald Trump nor President Joe Biden has been able to use the recess appointments clause.

What does Washington do during recess?
While members and some staff are back home during these state work periods, recess is a great time for AFSA to engage with congressional staff who stay here in Washington.

What can you do during recess?
On the flip side, state work periods are a perfect time for AFSA members to engage with their representatives at home. Congressional members find it very important to learn more about the businesses in their communities, and recesses are meant for just that.

If you would like to invite a member of Congress to visit and learn more about your business, please feel free to reach out to AFSA staff for help.

February 15th, 2024 by

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