Cennamology Chief Editor
Congress leaves in three days for the annual August recess, where senators and representatives go back to their districts (a euphemism for “on vacation”) and Capitol Hill sits idle for the whole month.
This year, the August recess is not limited to August, as it lasts from August 1 to September 7. Also, the House of Representatives has an October recess this year as well, as the only days in October that Congress is scheduled to meet are the first and the second. This is to give them time to campaign instead of doing the job they were elected to do.
With so much left to do, the August recess seems to be more an unnecessary scheduling nuisance that gets in the way of the work that needs to be done than an opportunity for senators and representatives to focus on casework back home. Because of this, the August recess needs to be either greatly shortened, done away with all together, or significantly reformed.
The justification that Congress uses for the August recess is that it provides lawmakers an important time to go back to the district to work on projects back home. This is legitimate, but Congress is already given a week out of every month to do just that.
Congress has taken plenty of vacations this year – with a week-long vacation given to them in January, February, March, May, June, July, and September. In every month I did not mention just now, Congress is in recess over two weeks or more out of the month. By this point you realize that members of Congress have taken or will take at least one week off every month this year. I wish I got a week-long vacation every month!
With immigration reform, VA reform, climate change legislation, conservation legislation, net neutrality, and a host of other issues on Congress’ plate right not, it seems grossly irresponsible to take a five week break at this time (especially since the only thing House Republicans seem to be working on is a frivolous lawsuit against the president). However, the importance of district work cannot be understated either, which is why I do not have a problem with Congress having a week-long recess every month. Nevertheless, there is a way to keep Congress in session for most of the month of August while simultaneously giving members the month to work on constituent issues in their districts.
Instead of designating August as the month of recess, Congress should instead designate August as the month where members vote electronically from home. Each member can have an account on a House and Senate voting website where they can vote from their smartphones instead of having to rush to the House floor for every roll call. If this is every phased in, August should be designated on Capitol Hill as "The Mobile Month."
The desire to be home during the summer is something both parties can agree on, and there is no doubt that with all the policy objectives left on the 113th Congress' agenda, 27 work days is not nearly enough. Allowing electronic voting during the month of August would be a 21st-century solution to satisfy both a congressman's desire to be home and the necessity to pass crucial legislation.
This idea is nothing new. The idea of “remote voting” was first proposed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) last year, with the intent of making the transition to this form of voting permanent instead of just for one month a year, with the intent to benefit members who are from further away in order to ease their commute and the travel costs as well. Many members of Congress from the west coast were open to Swalwell’s idea, but it got little attention elsewhere.
While a full transition would be undesirable because I believe that it would be even more difficult for Congress to draft bills from a distance than they would face-to-face, a month of remote voting and bill drafting from home is certainly preferable to a month of doing absolutely nothing legislatively. This would also permit those members who want to stay in August to do so and those who would prefer to go home to join committee hearings via Skype or satellite.
Having some work done remotely is much better than having no work done at all. Congress should consider making August the “tech” part of the session where members can still go home like they normally do every August but still be able to take part in votes and lawmaking. It’s much better than having a month-long period at the end of the summer when Capitol Hill is a total dead zone.