Just Doing Its Duty, Congress Takes Every August Off

Break is Actually Required by Law

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The US Congress As It Looks Every August – Empty – As Required By Law. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

If you expect the U.S. Congress to pass bills reforming the self-destructed Department of Veterans Affairs or dealing with the kids from Central America illegal immigration issue before Labor Day, forget it, because a federal law requires Congress to take every August off. Yes, a law.

Under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, the House and Senate “shall,” not “may,” begin their summer recesses “not later than July 31 of each year or, in the case of an odd-numbered year, from that Friday in August which occurs at least thirty days before the first Monday in September (Labor Day) of such year to the second day after Labor Day.”

In human being words, the legislative process – passing bills – must stop by midnight on July 31, and may not begin again until after Labor Day.

Exceptions are Allowed, But…

The law does say the summer recess will not be taken whenever a “state of war exists pursuant to a declaration of war by the Congress,” which has not happened since 1941.

And even without declaring war, lawmakers can work during August if both houses pass a joint resolution agreeing to convene. In 2005, for example, Congress set aside the flip-flops and piña coladas just long enough to return to D.C. and pass emergency legislation helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.

But, run ragged as they are from months -- heck years -- of not getting anywhere on bills saving the U.S. Postal Service or reforming antiquated immigration laws, what chance do veterans or 90,000 refugee kids have?

Oh, by the way, Congress will be starting its month-long summer recess a mere 3 pretty-much unproductive months after returning from its April 10 to April 28 Easter recess.​

And even when Congress returns in September, don’t expect your lawmakers to do much lawmaking for the rest of the year. With the critical mid-term election coming on November 4, look for lawmakers to spend most of their time in session blaming each other, praising themselves and avoiding issues, while embellishing and “misstating” facts.

You know… business as usual.