Jun 17, 2019

Congress Working: Congressional Schedule

Since 2007the House of Representatives has averaged 123 working days in Washington per year while the Senate has had an average of 144 days per year. This schedule isn’t conducive to an efficient legislative process. Not only does it often cause last-minute scrambles on vital pieces of legislation, like funding for important programs, it also makes it difficult for members to focus on the issues, work on solutions, and develop crucial relationships needed to make a difference.  

This year, that can change with the Modernization Committee’s work to make Congress work more efficiently. Here’s what you need to know about the congressional schedule—and why it’s in need of change: 

What is Congress’s Current Schedule? 

Members typically arrive in Washington on Tuesday for votes scheduled to start in the evening that day and leave after votes on Thursday afternoon. This truncated schedule leaves only one full day—Wednesday—for committee hearings, markups, and the other necessary ingredients for fruitful legislating. 

Additionally, the House of Representatives and Senate do not always have synchronized schedules, meaning the House could periodically be working one day while the Senate is out and vice versa. This can needlessly drag out the legislative process and slow down critical pieces of legislation from moving in the way they should. 

What is a Typical Day in D.C. like for a Member of Congress? 

An individual Member’s schedule is extremely hectic when he or she is in Washington.  There are dozens of different issues and commitments pulling them in different directions daily with the goal of packing in as much as possible in less than three working days.  It is a real challenge to find enough time to meet with constituents, manage and direct staff, review constituent input, attend hearings and events, read and review policy issues and bills, respond to media, fundraise, keep in touch with ones family, and still have time to eat and sleep.  A member’s day in Washington often starts at 6 am and doesn’t end until 9 or 10 pm at nightin additionthere is preparation for the next day.  These members then hurriedly scramble for a flight out of D.C. on Thursday to do series of meetings, events, and visits in their districts on Friday and the weekend.  Then, they are back on a late afternoon Monday or Tuesday morning flight to Washington to return to the same rapid pace and erratic schedule.’  While this may be an expected part of the job, having a more structured and predictable working calendar will help make the Congress more functional.     

Why Does Congress Need a New Schedule? 

There are three main reasons Congress needs a new schedule: 

  1. better coordinated legislative calendar between the House and Senate would make the operations more efficient.  With the current mismatched schedulesit is not uncommon for one chamber to use the schedule as a source of leverage, offering the other chamber legislation on a take-it-or-leave-it basis before its members physically depart Washington in order to avoid further inter-house deliberations. 
  2. Concurrent schedules that require members to work three weeks out of the month in Washington with five legislative work days per week in their districts would provide the time necessary for Congress to fulfill its constitutionally mandated responsibility of overseeing and funding the federal government. Additionally, it would give members ample time to consider and develop substantive policy solutions to the many complex problems facing the nation. 
  3. More time in Washington would allow for more interpersonal relationship-building among members of both parties. Having opportunities to get to know colleagues will help defuse the increasingly toxic discourse on Capitol Hill, as it becomes harder to demonize people with whom you maintain personal and working relationships. The seeds of trust are planted when members of both parties have the opportunity to build relationships with each other. These relationships are crucial to achieving legislative results for the American people.  

What Could a Revitalized Schedule Look Like? 

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, a diverse group of civic leaders and former elected officials from across the political spectrum, issued a report with recommendations to revitalize Congress and strengthen our democracy. Among the list of recommendations is a synchronized, five-day workweek schedule with three weeks in session followed by one-week district work periods.  

A new schedule would help ensure the overall effectiveness of Congress. With the Modernization Committee, a more functional Congress is on the horizon! To read more about Congress’s working days, click here for the Healthy Congress Index. 

Is Congress Working for You?