After delaying their annual August recess for a day to complete some politically motivated votes, Representatives and Senators finally cleared out of Washington, D.C., Friday night.
They had to, and not just because the country couldn't take much more posturing.
It's the law.
Just following rules: Part 6 of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 deals with Congressional time off.
Sec. 132 specificaly states that the House and Senate shall end their sessions "not later than July 31 of each year" or in odd numbered years "from that Friday in August which occurs at least thirty days before the first Monday in September," aka Labor Day.
The required August adjournment is not in effect, however, if the country is involved in a Congressionally declared war. And the House and Senate can come back in August if their services are really, really needed.
Blame the heat and humidity: As a former national capital area resident -- the hubby and I lived in a Capitol Hill apartment for one year before moving to the Maryland suburbs for the remainder of our almost 20 years in the Washington, D.C., area -- I can attest to the desire to escape in late summer.
Much of the city is built on reclaimed swamp land and the mugginess never left. So August is understandably pretty miserable.
In fact, the area's weather has historically dictated not only lawmakers' attire -- note the recently resumed Seersucker days on Capitol Hill -- but also when they met.
The U.S. Senate's official look at the August recess has the details:
During the Senate's early years, senators typically convened a session in December and adjourned in the spring, before the summer heat overwhelmed them and their small staff. When the Senate moved to its current chamber in 1859, senators were optimistic about its "modern" ventilation system, but they found the new system ineffective. The 1920s brought "manufactured weather" to the Senate chamber, but even modern climate control could not cope with the hottest days, forcing 20th-century senators to find ways to escape the summer heat. By the mid-20th century, a more modern air conditioning system brought relief, but year-long sessions presented new problems. By the 1950s the job of a U.S. senator was a full-time, year-round job and there were very few breaks built into the legislative calendar. In 1963, for example, the Senate met from January to December without a break longer than a three-day weekend. Consequently, members of Congress sought a way to establish a summertime recess. In 1970, finally facing the reality of year-long sessions, Congress mandated a summer break as part of the Legislative Reorganization Act.
That August recess now is built into the House and Senate schedules. The members of the 113th Congress will be back to, uh, work (?) on Sept. 8.
That date also is this week's By the Numbers figure.
Working or playing? Until then, the Senators and Representatives will spend the next five weeks on, in politico-speak, a "district work period." Right.
At least one Senator, though, was honest about the break as he and his colleagues worked toward the wrap-up Thursday, July 31, night.
He was caught on tape discussing his eagerness to head out for vacation. At least it's nice to know that at least one member of Congress can occasionally be honest.