Odd Congressional Rhythms

For as long as I can remember, the week of Memorial Day is usually quiet in the halls of the Capitol, as both the House and Senate are out of session. But this year, things are different because of Republican scheduling changes in the House.

With the GOP in charge of the House, a "new and improved" schedule was set up for this year, which gives lawmakers more frequent full weeks of time back in their districts for town hall meetings and other constitutent business.

Because of that, the normal rhythms of Capitol Hill are much different this year - instead of the House and Senate both taking off the weeks of Memorial Day and July 4th - the House will work both of those weeks, while the Senate is back home.

For example, this week, the House is working, but the Senate is not.

Next week, the Senate is in session, but the House is not.

To most of you reading this blog, this is a 'who gives a crap' kind of observation.

But to those who work on Capitol Hill or whose job is linked to the Congress, this is a big change - because it means that from Easter to August, there is never one week where the House and Senate are out of town at the same time.

What does that mean?  Well, there are ten work weeks between now and the first Friday in August, when the lengthy August break begins for lawmakers.  Of those ten weeks, the House and Senate will be working at the same time - only five of those weeks.

So this week, the lights are dark on the Senate side of the Capitol, while the House will be in session on this four day work week.

What will the House feature on its' truncated schedule?

Today will bring a vote on a bill that would increase the nation's debt limit. As I wrote in another blog, that's just for show, as Republicans will vote against it, arguing that the debt limit should not be increased until there's a move from big cuts in spending.

Later this week, House GOP leaders have two spending bills on the schedule for next year's budget, part of their plan to cut $30 billion - far short of the amount needed to balance the budget.

On the foreign policy front, the House will also vote on a resolution that is being pressed by more liberal Democrats, directing the President, to end hostilities against Libya, as part of a push related to the War Powers Act.

As for the Senate, it will technically be in session this week, as Republicans refused to allow a full adjournment this week, which would have allowed President Obama to make "recess appointments" while Senators were out of town.

The Senate will have a very fast "pro forma" session on Tuesday and Friday of this week, in order to fulfill the requirements laid out in Article I of the Constitution that "Neither House may adjourn, without the consent of the other, for more than three days."

That means one lucky Senator will have to come in to work on Tuesday & Friday of this week to tap the gavel and bring the Senate in and out of session.

Usually, that's a local Senator from Maryland or Virginia, who doesn't have to come far to the Capitol for that duty - or it could be one of the more senior Senators who don't always go back to their home states during a recess week.

Of course, it means someone's staff will have a Senator in the office today on Capitol Hill, when mentally, they were ready for the boss to be out of town.

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