Monday, August 15, 2011

The Congressional August Recess or What The *#@! Are We Supposed To Do Now?

Here in our nation’s capital, we are at a time when the Representatives and Senators hang up their shoes and leave for their home districts or states. Washington quickly turns into a ghost town as many people in government relations offices take this opportunity to vacation, enjoy extended lunch breaks, and leave early on Friday work days. When speaking with my friends and family back in California, a question I often find myself answering is, “Why do they get an entire month off?! We still need to figure out how to solve this issue, that problem, or the other thing. What the *%#@ are we supposed to do?!” Interestingly, over the weekend there was a letter to the editor in the Washington Post defending the recess ( Whether you feel the August recess is a well-deserved break or not, let me answer this frequently asked question.

I’ll start by addressing the first part of the question, why do they take this month long break? Well, back in the years of horse and buggy, the buildings our legislators worked in had no air conditioning. In August, the humidity in D.C. is so unbearable that it should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention. As a result, the House and Senate would adjourn for the month of August to run home before the big bad humidity kicked in. Also, being a legislator before 1900 was not a full time job. The congressional schedule was only six months long so the legislators could return to their businesses. During the 1960s, the August recess became law because many legislators wished to spend some time with their families. As you can probably imagine (or remember for some of you), the 1960s was a busy time for Congress. For members today, the recess is not a big vacation in the Bahamas or Cancun. The overwhelming majority of our legislators use the recess as an opportunity to return to their districts and reconnect with their constituents.

So now that you have the abridged history lesson, let’s discuss what the August recess environment means for your organization or issue. I would NOT recommend having a lobby day, congressional briefing, or a meeting with congressional staffers in DC. Most of these staffers are out of town or will probably pay little attention during your meeting. Rather than trying to effect legislation, now is the time for your organization to turn its focus to creating a better relationship with the legislator. Connecting with your legislator in his or her home district will have a significant impact on the relationship as it solidifies your organization’s status as a vocal constituent group. Attending town hall meetings, arranging to have the legislator visit your workplace, or a simple meeting with the legislator will be enormously powerful in building a relationship with your Congressperson or Senator. The relationship you build today will be crucial tomorrow when you make your ask during the appropriations process, super committee vote, or the budget drafting.

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