Scrapping Recess to Bust Legislative Logjam is Surprisingly Common

Summer congressional break has started on schedule only 11 times in its 40-year history

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that he was delaying the chamber’s August recess by two weeks — a move the media have depicted as a sign of GOP dysfunction, but one that is actually fairly common in recent congressional history.

“In order to provide more time to complete action on important legislative items and process nominees that have been stalled by a lack of cooperation from our friends across the aisle, the Senate will delay the start of the August recess until the third week of August,” McConnell said in a statement.

“Once the Senate completes its work on health care reform, we will turn to other important issues, including the National Defense Authorization Act and the backlog of critical nominations that have been mindlessly stalled by Democrats,” the statement continued.

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The announcement comes after a growing chorus of conservative activists and lawmakers in the caucus called for the outright cancellation of the summer break in order to bust through the logjam on Republican legislative priorities.

“I cannot imagine that Congress would dare to leave Washington without a beautiful new HealthCare bill fully approved and ready to go!” President Trump tweeted on Monday.

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Much of the media were quick to suggest McConnell’s announcement was a novel indication of chaos among Republicans.

“Congress delays usual August recess because Republicans haven’t been able to get things done,” read a headline on Vox.

The truth of the matter, however, is that delaying the “usual” August recess isn’t so unusual at all. The law that implemented the recess — which was only passed in 1970 — mandated the recess would begin “from that Friday in August which occurs at least thirty days before the first Monday in September.”

But according to a 2010 article published by The Hill, in the then-40 years since the August recess was officially implemented, the recess began on time on only 11 occasions. In 2014, the recess was delayed slightly to give lawmakers time to work on two immigration bills.

Congress has on occasion also returned from the August recess early in order to address pressing matters. Congressmen returned early in 2004 to hold hearings after the release of the 9/11 Commission Report. The following year, Congress returned early once again to respond to the humanitarian disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Although an official, legally mandated August recess is a modern development, the tradition dates back to the country’s earliest days, when lawmakers would retire to their homes in order to escape the Washington swamp’s oppressive summer heat.

But even in the days prior to the wonders of indoor climate control and the luxury of a legally mandated summer vacation, Congressmen were still on occasion forced to forgo their time off.

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The first time this happened was in 1841, when Congress stayed in session to deal with “an abundance of legislation,” and the fallout of President William Henry Harrison’s death, the Hill reported.

And of course, in the ensuing years, presidents would also call Congress back into session in times of war. President Lincoln recalled Congress during the early days of the Civil War in 1861, and lawmakers would also spend part of their summers working during World Wars I and II.

Congress may not be dealing with a world war, but some think that living up to their campaign promises is as good a reason as any for lawmakers to suspend the start of their summer recess.

“It is a good move by Senator Mitch McConnell to delay the start of August recess,” said FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon in a statement Tuesday. “The American people were promised repeal of Obamacare.”

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