The U.S. Capitol Building with a green lawn in front and a blue sky above.

The U.S. Capitol Building will stand empty until after Labor Day.

(Photo: iStock/via Getty Images)

Has Congress Really Earned its Summer Recess?

If you bump into your Senators and Representatives on their handshaking tours and fund-raisers in August, ask them why they don’t work full-time in Congress in the interest of the people.

Last week, several colleagues and I sent an open letter to all 535 members of Congress about reducing their five-week vacation and remaining in Congress to address crucial long-delayed tasks:

July 27, 2023

Open Letter to Members of Congress: Crises Demand More Work Time Shorter Vacation

The Congress is about to embark on the longest of its annual numerous “recesses”—some would call these five weeks until after Labor Day in September a vacation from your Washington, D.C. workplace. Does it seem reckless not to be in session, holding hearings, floor deliberations, personally communicating with one another, and legislating at a time of national and international convulsions?

Deadly climate eruptions—floods, droughts, uncontrollable wildfires, hurricanes (typhoons), and extreme heat are reaching record levels in recorded history. U.S. war policies and practices, constitutionally under congressional directive, are out of control by an escalating rampage of executive power. You have a budget deadline by September 30 and numerous appropriation bills, including the audit-resistant (in violation of the 1990 federal law) runaway military budget, still on the table. Post-pandemic privations for tens of millions of Americans in poverty, including inexcusable plights of millions of children, no longer receiving the child’s tax credit, are mounting. And more.

Come to your institutional senses. Convene three out of the five weeks to work inside our legislature and focus our many unproductive committees and subcommittees on these calamities facing our country. That still leaves you with two weeks before Labor Day to rest, stretch, and reflect on your full constitutional duties before the nation and the people who sent you there. The same people who want you to work full weeks to address their necessities which they have entrusted to your care—all 535 of you in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

We look forward to your individual and collective responses.

Ralph Nader, Esq.
Bruce Fein, Esq.
Louis Fisher
Rocky Anderson, Esq.
Two-term elected Mayor pf Salt Lake City
Robert Weissman, Esq.
President of Public Citizen

CC: The American People

For members of Congress, Friday was “Whee, we’re outta here” till after Labor Day. The summer recess is the longest of their numerous recesses. Your Senators and Representatives spend about 35 weeks a year on Capitol Hill, and on average they are only in session three days each week. Even then the lawmakers scurry out of their Congressional offices to nearby campaign offices to dial for campaign dollars. (See, “Welcome to The Congress on Capitol Hill! An exclusive country club in Washington, D.C.” by Steve Skrovan and James Wirt, July/August 2023 issue of the Capitol Hill Citizen).

What do they leave behind as they take their long summer break? Unpassed, much-delayed appropriations bill for government departments and agencies plus the overall budget bill due on September 30.

What else do they need to do? Here is a sample of some important matters that deserve public hearings:

  1. The corporate crime wave. Hearings were promised by Senators Blumenthal and Whitehouse on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still waiting.
  2. The corrupt tax escape system for the super rich and giant corporations that pay tax rates lower than tens of millions of working Americans. Sometimes these critters pay zero federal income tax on their profits. NO HEARINGS.
  3. The most anti-labor union laws in the Western world since 1947. NO HEARINGS.
  4. No oversight on waste, fraud, and abuse within the huge military assistance packages to Ukraine. Congress blocked the establishment of an Inspector General’s office. No probing hearings on this war, nor were there any for years on the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions.
  5. According to a peer-reviewed study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, at least 5,000 people a week die in U.S. hospitals due “to preventable problems.” That’s over 250,000 Americans a year. NO HEARINGS. Instead, GOP House members think hearings on Hunter Biden deserve their time.
  6. Harvard and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports estimate at least $1 billion a DAY is stolen by computerized billing fraud in the healthcare industry. These business predators take some $60 billion a year from Medicare alone. NO HEARINGS on abuses by corporatized healthcare.
  7. Congress funds the GAO to give it critical information and recommendations about the operations of the executive branch. Many GAO suggestions are ignored. NO HEARINGS on why?

During the first three weeks of August, those underworked congressional committees and subcommittees you pay for could hold dramatic public hearings. There are many expert witnesses eager on short notice to disclose their findings and reforms.

Granted, such hearings are much more likely to be held in the Democratically-controlled Senate. (The current GOP crop in the House is crazed.). But it is not widely known that the minority Democratic Party—in the House—can hold unofficial hearings on their own using the otherwise empty Committee rooms.

Congressional hearings generate press and inform the people and the legislators, to whom they have delegated their sovereign power, about serious matters including public necessities. Hearings set the stage for legislation to abolish dire poverty, protect our children, wage peace, address environmental disasters, and achieve a just legal system holding corporate power to account.

If you bump into your Senators and Representatives on their handshaking tours and fund-raisers in August, ask them why they don’t work full-time in Congress in the interest of the people. Better yet, invite them to your own town meetings. (See, “Members of Congress are home for August” by Ralph Nader, July/August 2023 issue of the Capitol Hill Citizen).

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.