Jun 4, 2018

Does Congress Deserve a Break?

*UPDATED 6/11:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on June 6, 2018 that he has canceled much of the Senate’s August recess. The Senate will now break for only the first week of August. With the decision made to cancel a large amount of recess, Congress now has more time to complete necessary appropriations. It is our vision for Congress to have ample time for debate on all legislative matters, especially those of great importance like spending bills. Staying at work is a small price to pay for results.

What if you had a huge project at work that was due, but you weren’t even close to completing it by the deadline? Would you: A) put in extra effort to get the job done, or B) pack your bags and leave town for a month?

Sadly, Congress is about to take option B to work in their districts for a month, leaving vital legislative business unfinished.

Every year, Congress is tasked with completing the budget and appropriations process, in which it allocates funds to various government agencies and programs around the country. Ranging from the armed forces to education and critical health and research programs, this funding is necessary for the functioning of our government and vital to countless Americans.

Considering that appropriations authorized by Congress have provided as much as 39 percent of the total federal spending in recent years, it is clear that the budget and appropriations process is of chief importance.

Why, then, is Congress planning a break instead of getting the job done?

Congress has taken an August recess every year since 1971. During this time, members head home to their districts to meet with constituents. Current proposals, however, call for this break to be contingent on completed appropriations. Why should our lawmakers be allowed to leave this all-important job unfinished, only to return to the task a month later with even less time to spare?

If Congress doesn’t finish appropriations by the time it adjourns for the August recess, there would be a mere 11 days in September during which both Houses are in session before the end of the fiscal year.* This tight deadline often creates unnecessary, last-minute funding battles; seemingly endless temporary funding measures; or legislation passed at the eleventh hour, with no time for input from rank and file members – resulting in massive, one-size-fits-all spending packages that lawmakers have no time to review.

Senator David Perdue, who is leading the charge to ensure Congress finishes its job before taking a break, said in a Tweet: “We’re willing to work nights, weekends, and through the August state work period in order to…avoid last-minute funding battles.”

A growing number of Americans (government officials included) agree with him – Congress should stay in D.C. to continue to work on appropriations bills rather than taking a month-long recess.

This is not to say that members should simply force through legislation on purely partisan lines in a rush to the August recess finish line.  True bipartisan legislating takes time – which is all the more reason that Congress should take the time necessary for thorough debate and including the best ideas from both parties, even if that means staying through August.

Could foregoing summer recess to tackle the appropriations process make Congress work better?


*The fiscal year ends on September 30. From the time Congress is scheduled to return from its August recess, there are 11 days in which both chambers are slated to convene.

Is Congress Working for You?