Congress Is in Session

Congress is in session throughout the year, with several scheduled recesses. Under normal circumstances, the House of Representatives is in session from Tuesday through Thursday, with members back in the district the remainder of the time.

The Senate, on the other hand, is typically in session the entire week; thus most senators travel home less frequently than do their House counterparts (unless it's an election year). Senators and representatives from the western states, Hawaii, and Alaska usually return to their districts only once or twice a month while Congress is in session.

What Members Do

While Congress is in session, a typical day for a member may include up to a dozen activities:

  • Attending committee and subcommittee meetings and hearings

  • Meeting with staff and other members to discuss pending legislation

  • Participating in floor debate and voting on legislation

  • Meeting with constituents and overseeing casework

  • Caucusing with party members to devise legislative strategies

  • Meeting with other government officials, interest groups, and lobbyists to discuss pending legislation

  • Managing the staff and office operations

  • Making media appearances to advance a piece of legislation or advocate a policy position

With so many things to do and places to be, casting votes can sometimes present a challenge for members of Congress. Fortunately, members are alerted by a special pager when a roll call is imminent, and have fifteen minutes to race back to the Capitol building to record their vote. Some members are fastidious about never missing a vote, while others are more lax in their approach.

All of those are just the normal activities of the business day. After-hours duties may include attending fundraisers and other political events, preparing for the next day's activities, making phone calls to contributors and supporters back home, and traveling to other districts in support of party colleagues.

The pace doesn't slow down much back home. Most members spend their weekends in the district participating in town hall meetings, meeting with constituents, holding office hours, making public appearances, and attending political events. Between work and travel, there is little time for anything else. As former Congressman Fred Grandy of Iowa put it, “Congress is a good job for someone with no family, no life of their own, no desire to do anything but get up, go to work, and live and die by their own press releases.”

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