House schedule too light, say Democrats

The House will retain its pattern of working two weeks in Washington followed by a week of district work under its 2012 legislative calendar, released Thursday by House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorFeehery: The governing party 'Release the memo' — let's stop pretending that Democrats are the defenders of the FBI Raúl Labrador, a model for Hispanic politicians reaching higher MORE (R-Va.).

The schedule calls for more weeks in session in the first half of the year, culminating in a busy July and work the first week of August. 

Lawmaker time in Washington then falls off, with the House out until Sept. 10 so that lawmakers can spend August in their districts and attend their party’s political conventions.

The last week in August is both designated a constituent workweek and set aside for the Republican National Convention. The first week in September is similar in that it allows for constituent work and the Democratic National Convention.

Democrats quickly lambasted the schedule as inadequate. 

In September, the House will spend two weeks in Washington before a week of district work. After a week in D.C. during the first week of October, lawmakers will head home for the final campaign stretch before Election Day. 

The House will return the week after Election Day, which is Nov. 6.

Cantor defended the work schedule in a letter to House colleagues announcing next year’s calendar, saying it had “helped improve the legislative culture of the House.” He said other rules changes Republicans put in place after taking over the House also helped make the chamber more efficient.

“Introduced bills now include constitutional authority statements, commemoratives have been eliminated, and the percentage of bills that have come to the floor under suspension of the rules has dramatically declined from 80 percent last year to 55 percent this year,” he wrote. “Combined, these reforms have helped fulfill the Speaker’s commitment to a more deliberative legislative process.”

By Oct. 14 of this year, Cantor wrote, the House had taken 800 roll call votes, as opposed to 565 by the same date last year.

But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) criticized both the 2011 and 2012 schedules for not allowing more time to get the “basic work” of the House completed. He also hit the GOP for designing a schedule that results in weeks where the House is in session and the Senate is out, and vice versa. 

“We’ve conducted legislative business a mere 111 days this year — nearly equal to the 104 days spent either in recess or in pro forma business,” Hoyer said. “And the schedule has been out of sync with the Senate, making it nearly impossible to coordinate. As a result, this Congress has seen only a small number of bills signed into law.”

Cantor said that the House next year will continue to reserve the morning for committee activities, which means votes would start no earlier than 1 p.m. and end no later than 7 p.m., except in the case of appropriations bills, votes on which can extend past 7 p.m.