If you think it’s been slow-going on Capitol Hill since the new Democrat-controlled Congress convened in January, official Washington has really ground to a halt now that the legislative body has adjourned until Sept. 4 — its members fleeing town like spooked animals.
Whether or not you think our elected representatives deserve a long summer holiday, it so happens that their annual August recess is now required by law.
It was 36 years ago Aug. 6 that the Senate and House took their first “mandatory” 30-day summer recess, as required by the 1970 Legislative Reorganization Act. According to the Senate historian, existing law had provided that Congress “shall adjourn sine die not later than July 31 of each year,” unless the two houses provided otherwise.
“But the last time Congress had managed to complete its work at the end of July had been in 1956,” says the historian. “On even-numbered years, Congress usually managed to adjourn by early October to accommodate members running for re-election, but in odd-numbered years, it had become standard to work until December, with little time for members to plan for and enjoy family summer vacations.” So the new law has helped? “Although August recesses since 1971 have been abbreviated during election years, the 1970 act’s recess provision has been carried out faithfully during odd-numbered years.”