Congress at Recess


The worst part of it, of course, is that they can’t go out on recess.  They have to stay in the room until they have finished their assigned tasks.  Children in grade school know that that is a fairly severe penalty for failing to complete the assigned task on time.  Of course the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives try to avoid the word “recess.” Their members think that describing their not infrequent vacations as “recess” is too reminiscent of being in grade school (which their conduct causes many of us to think they are).  Thus Representative Eric Cantor in releasing the House calendar refers not to “recess” but to “Constituent Work Week”, thus making it sound like some constructive work House members are doing in conjunction with their constituents and not simply being out on the play ground, as it were.

The Senate calendar describes the time not in session as “State Work Period”.  That sounds like the Senators are off helping build roads and bridges and otherwise contributing to assorted capital construction projects in their states.

The official schedule for both houses, however, has not caught on to the game and continues to refer to the time off as Recess time.  That is in fact what it is.  It is time that can be spent,  if they go home, doing important things like talking with people back home  who will give them large amounts of money to help them keep their jobs.  If they do not go home they can travel  around the world on trips that the uninformed would consider boondoggles, but that, the travelers explain, give them first hand opportunities to visit the countries affected by our foreign policy

A 2009 Wall Street Journal report, attesting to their diligence, observed that  taxpayer funded travel by members of Congress had tripled between 2001 and 2009 and risen ten-fold since 1995.  In addition to Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan recent travel has also included such important destinations from as the Galapagos Islands and the biennial Paris Air show.

The dreadful thing about the legislative log jams that have confronted both Houses because of the intransigence of their members is not that funding for such trivial things as the FAA has been delayed at great cost to the taxpayers,  but that it has cut into the members’ recess time.

In 2010 their intransigence forced them to skip the Christmas recess and work through the Christmas holidays, thus missing the many fun parties that are normally given during the holiday season.   More recently they were close to being forced to work during part of the last week in September.  (The House managed to adjourn only one day later than it intended.  The Senate was forced to work a couple extra days.)  Both the Senate and the House had scheduled vacations for their members for the period from September 26 to October 2.  The members were sorely in need of time off since both chambers had been in session for approximately 14 days after returning from their month long summer vacation.  That 14-day period was so busy that neither Senator Majority Harry Reid nor House Majority Leader John Boehner gave their respective members time to report on “How I spent my summer vacation.”  Instead they immediately began being unpleasant to one another with the result that they were once again threatened with not being permitted to go out on recess until they resolved their differences.  As is often the case in contentious classroom situations, the principal, or in this case the president, is virtually powerless to restore order to the classroom.  That task lies with the respective leaders of the two classrooms and neither holds much sway over the folks in the room.  Accordingly, their recess time was slightly shortened.

Although all constituents, even the unemployed, will feel a touch of sympathy for their representatives when they are forced to work extra days, it is not as much of a hardship as some might think.  According to the Senate Daily Digest, during the last 20 years Senators have been in session between 123 and 191 days a year.  House members have probably worked about the same amount although a 20-year comparison is not readily available.  The rest of the time is recess time.

In 2011 House members expect to work about 123 days and will have 241 days of free time. Senators anticipate having to work for 120 days leaving them about 245 days of free time. Compared with how many days their constituents who are lucky enough to have jobs are  permitted to go out on recess, our elected representatives are faring extremely well.

It’s just the country that is suffering.  Given their behavior when they’re not out on recess, perhaps the country would suffer less if they simply stayed on recess the entire year.  They would not accomplish less than they seem to now and there would be a great deal less unpleasant squabbling in the classroom.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?