Summer Season: Can lawmakers enjoy it too?

By Nolan DiConti

It’s the summer! The most popular season of the year to relax, so how are you spending it? Are you taking a trip to the beach? Are you finally taking a trip to Europe with the family? Maybe you’re working as a summer life-guard while being a couch potato on your days off. However your summertime is spent, we can all agree that it’s a good time to capitalize on your saved vacation days. But from a political standpoint, summer is one of the most hectic seasons of the year. Currently, immigration and student loan reform are the focal point and lawmakers are rushing to reach a compromise before the August 5th recess. Why the hurry to pass legislation before recess? The issue may be that lawmakers want to avoid going back to their districts empty handed in fear of their reelection being on the chopping block. To counter such fears, most representatives spend their entire recess reaching out to constituents leaving little if not any time to bask in the sun and enjoy the surf.

Americans love to spend their vacations by visiting touristy spots throughout the United States. Popular destinations include Venice Beach attracting an annual 16 million sunbathers; Times Square sees an annual 41 million visitors, Las Vegas nearly 30 million, and both Disney parks accumulating over 30 million annual visitors. Are representatives visiting these hot spots as well? Probably not. According to a recent study by the Congressional Management Foundation, the August recess is hardly a break. Recess is actually a critical time for lawmakers to strengthen their relationships with constituents. The study asked lawmakers what they believe is most essential for their effectiveness and 95% said “staying in touch” with people back home in order to better understand the views and opinions of their district. When recess hits and lawmakers are back home, most of their time is spent on constituent service work, followed by campaigning. Representatives work on average 70 hours a week in D.C. and 59 hours back home during the August recess, significantly more than a standard 40 hour week.   

But with all this hard work, the current 113th Congress holds an approval rating of only 6%, according Rasmussen Reports. However, the work representatives do with their constituents evidently pays off individually because nearly half of Americans approve of the job their own representative is doing according to GALLUP. But is a strong approval rating even necessary? According to the odds, it isn’t. Opensecrets.org provides a graph showing that since 1964, the percentage of incumbents in the House winning reelection has been above 80% and since 1982 the reelection rate in the Senate has stayed above 70%.

So during those final days leading up to the August recess, politics might not have to be as hectic as it usually is. Yes, it is understandable for representatives to fulfill promises made to their constituents by adding last-minute earmarks to multi-billion dollar bills. Yes, it is understandable for representatives to want to be more transparent to constituents when they’re home. But with the advantage of having money, name recognition, and campaign organization over incoming opponents, maybe incumbents should feel more relaxed during the summer because the odds of winning reelection are overwhelmingly in their favor. So my advice to Congress: Relax and keep a towel and swim trunks close by because it wouldn’t hurt your campaign to go for a swim at least once in August.