Q of the Week: Should Congress Take Their Summer Recess?

Susan Walsh / AP
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Since early June, Representative Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, has been calling for Congress to cancel its summer recess in order to pass a few key items on the GOP agenda, like health care and tax reform. But lawmakers are reluctant to give up their summer breaks, partly because the recess gives them time to meet with their constituents back in their home states.

This week we asked our Politics & Policy Daily readers whether they think lawmakers should go on recess or stick around to focus on work. The responses were mixed. Stan Hastey breaks it down like this:

This is a hard one; I'm truly ambivalent, as was my fellow Oklahoman, [actor and newspaper columnist] Will Rogers. Once he said: “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” So as to keep on humoring us, then, maybe Congress should stick around for the summer.

On another occasion, though, Rogers said: “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” Perhaps they should go home, the sooner the better.

And as Jenette Settle writes:

If there were ever a time when Congress needed a recess to return home, it’s now. The country and party is so divided over healthcare, tax cuts, congressional salaries, immigration … Now more than ever our elected officials need to hear from their constituents.

In particular, Ginger Jefferson is worried about getting a chance to speak her mind about the health-care proposal Senate Republicans revealed on Thursday:

If they were wise, thoughtful, patriotic representatives of all the people of this country they would go on recess and allow the public to weigh in on their “Repugnant Care” bill. Give the public the opportunity to actually read it, ask questions, and assess how it will affect millions of Americans.

Joe Bookman thinks maybe lawmakers would learn something new at their town-hall meetings. When they get back, “each one can present the one issue or thought that they disagreed with but heard many times.”

But many other readers think lawmakers have had ample time to meet with constituents—and can do so whether they’re home on recess or not.

J.B. Johnston hopes the Republican-led Congress will stay focused on President Trump’s agenda: “We need the health-care bill passed and tax reform done. Every day is a loss of the benefit they will produce.”

Elaine Loutzenheiser disagrees about that benefit, but comes to the same conclusion:

They need to stay in Washington and get some of the work done that they are being paid (well) to do. I haven’t seen much they have accomplished except a “mean” and terrible health care bill.

And Anna Bucciarelli feels similarly:

They should stay put. They have work to do and should get it done. They get extremely substantial payment for their service to their country, far more than any teacher or average Joe. Let them earn it!

Donna Baum puts it this way:

If I do not get my housework done, no clean clothes , no food shopping done, no bills paid, no house cleaning … I think I disappoint myself and my family. I can only pray that Congress would adopt my values [because] we chose them to represent us.

But why must they choose between vacation and passing an agenda? Several readers suggested that both can be accomplished, if Congress gets its priorities straight. David Deufel’s proposal:

Compromise and take only a couple of weeks unless major legislation has been adopted. Omnibus funding for government and debt ceiling are mandatory. Little else may be enacted into law with ongoing investigations and GOP's inability to work with Democrats.

And, with the accessibility of video-chat technology, why couldn’t lawmakers simply set up town halls remotely? Subramaniam Vincent brainstorms:

The same conversational dynamics of Q&A, moderation, etc., can all be done, with perhaps even less planning than what’s needed for a physical event. They’d just need good broadband and digital conference tools. In fact, more conference events could be done—perhaps one per county—to decrease crowded, overflowing, otherwise limited events.

Regardless of how lawmakers choose to spend their summer, several readers stressed the importance of being in touch with constituents no matter what time of year it is.

Gail Shields-Miller believes it should be mandatory that all elected officials hold town-hall meetings and interactions during recesses, because “not doing this constitutes a failure to perform the duties and responsibilities that are inherent to their positions.”

After all, as several readers pointed out, Congress works for Americans.

“This is a job,” wrote in R.J. Roos. “Taxpayers deserve 40-hour weeks, 52 weeks a year.”