How Many Days a Year Congress Works

Members of Congress being sworn into office.
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Members of Congress work fewer than half of the days in any given year, but those account for only "legislative days," defined as an official meeting of the legislative body to do the people's business. The House works about two days a week and the Senate works a little more than that, according to federal records.

You've probably heard the phrase "do-nothing Congress" at least once in your life, and it's often a jab at the inability of lawmakers to reach common ground and pass important spending bills. Sometimes it's a reference to how little Congress appears to work, especially in light of the $174,000 base salary for its members—more than three times the amount of money the median U.S. household earns.

Here's an explanation of how many days Congress works every year.

Number of Days Congress Works in Session a Year

The House of Representatives has averaged 146.7 "legislative days" a year since 2001, according to records kept. That's about one day of work every two and a half days. The Senate, on the other hand, was in session an average of 165 days a year over the same time period.

Technically a legislative day in the House can span more than 24 hours; a legislative day ends only when the session is adjourned. The Senate works a little differently. A legislative day often stretches beyond the boundaries of the 24-hour workday day and sometimes week. That doesn't mean the Senate is meeting around the clock. It just means that a legislative session merely recesses but doesn't adjourn after a day's work.

Here are the number of legislative days for the House and Senate each year in recent history:

  • 2018: 174 in the House, 191 in the Senate.
  • 2017: 192 in the House, 195 in the Senate.
  • 2016: 131 in the House, 165 in the Senate.
  • 2015: 157 in the House, 168 in the Senate.
  • 2014: 135 in the House, 136 in the Senate.
  • 2013: 159 in the House, 156 in the Senate.
  • 2012: 153 in the House, 153 in the Senate.
  • 2011: 175 in the House, 170 in the Senate.
  • 2010: 127 in the House, 158 in the Senate.
  • 2009: 159 in the House, 191 in the Senate.
  • 2008: 119 in the House, 184 in the Senate.
  • 2007: 164 in the House, 190 in the Senate.
  • 2006: 101 in the House, 138 in the Senate.
  • 2005: 120 in the House, 159 in the Senate.
  • 2004: 110 in the House, 133 in the Senate.
  • 2003: 133 in the House, 167 in the Senate.
  • 2002: 123 in the House, 149 in the Senate.
  • 2001: 143 in the House, 173 in the Senate.

Duties and Obligations of Congress Members

The life of a lawmaker is about more than just the number of days scheduled to cast votes. "In session" legislative days make up only a small portion of the duties of congressmen.

In Session Vs. Out of Session Work Days

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about how much congressmen actually work due to the fact that there are often fewer legislative days than working days in the calendar. This leads people to believe that members of congress work much less than them and enjoy leisurely recesses spanning a month at a time, but this is far from the case.

In reality, a "recess" is a scheduled district/constituent work period during which House members serve the people of their district. When in session, congress members report spending only 15% of their time with friends and family and engaging in personal time. When out of session or in their congressional districts, they report spending only 17% on these activities.

No matter where they are or what they are doing, House and Senate members are spending 83-85% of their time—and well over 40 hours a week—on legislative/policy work, constituent services, political/campaign work, press/media relations, and administrative duties.

With regard to hours worked and sacrifices made by congressmen, the nonprofit Congressional Management Foundation has reported:

"Members work long hours (70 hours a week when Congress is in session), endure unequaled public scrutiny and criticism, and sacrifice family time to fulfill work responsibilities."

The 70-hour workweek reported by members of Congress is almost twice the average length of the workweek for Americans.

Constituent Services

One of the most important aspects of the job of congress members is being accessible and responsive to the people who voted them into office. Called constituent services, this duty involves answering phone calls from the public, holding town-hall meetings on important issues, and assisting members of the 435 congressional districts with their problems.

When Congress Adjourns

Each sitting of Congress begins in January of odd-numbered years and consists of two annual sessions, spanning early January to December of each year. Congress adjourns at the end of each session; there are two sessions for each sitting of Congress. The Constitution forbids either the Senate or the House to adjourn for more than three days without the permission of the other chamber.

View Article Sources
  1. "Days in Session of the U.S. Congress." Library of Congress.

  2. "List of All Sessions." History, Art, & Archives - United States House of Representatives.

  3. "Past Days in Session of the U.S. Congress."

  4. "Life in Congress: the Member Perspective." Congressional Management Foundation and Society for Human Resource Management, 2013.

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Murse, Tom. "How Many Days a Year Congress Works." ThoughtCo, May. 31, 2021, Murse, Tom. (2021, May 31). How Many Days a Year Congress Works. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "How Many Days a Year Congress Works." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).