Since 2007, the 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 one’s 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 night; in addition, there 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:
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.