In Senate, Thursday is the new Friday

The Senate likes to take long weekends, having voted only on a few Fridays this year.

The upper chamber’s penchant for getting out of town early has frustrated House Republican members. Throughout the year, House GOP lawmakers have ripped the Democratic-controlled Senate for being a graveyard for bills they have passed.

According to a review by The Hill, the Senate has voted on three Fridays in 2011, compared to 18 in the House. 

The Senate has been scheduled to be in session on many Fridays this year, but most weeks the chamber works late on Thursday nights so members can catch morning flights back home. 

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Causing some eyes to roll, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday threatened to keep the Senate in session through the Thanksgiving weekend in order to pass a defense bill. 

Reid’s tactics on weekend work have been a staple of the 112th Congress, but actual legislating on Saturdays and Sundays has been rare. 

Reid’s office did not comment for this article. 

Congressional schedules, which are set by the party that leads each chamber, have long been a political football.

After winning control of the House in 2006, Democrats instituted what they called a “five-day work week.” But that commitment waned somewhat amid complaints from members on the West Coast and politically vulnerable Democrats who needed to campaign in their districts as much as possible.

Four years later, following the GOP’s historic gains in 2010, House Republican leaders implemented a two-weeks in, one week out schedule. 

Democrats have lambasted this approach, arguing that it prevents Congress from getting its basic work done. 

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) last month noted the House schedule has been out of sync with the Senate, “making it nearly impossible to coordinate” and leading to “only a small number of bills signed into law.”

Republicans counter that it has led to results, and blame the Senate for inaction. 

“This [schedule] has provided members with more substantive work weeks, but also afforded those residing on the West Coast the ability to commute home each weekend to be with their constituents and families,” said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Congressional observers note that House and Senate members of both parties like to be home for the weekends. Lawmakers point out that they work on many Saturdays and Sundays, holding town halls and other events with their constituents.  

Reid has scoffed at suggestions that Republicans want to move more bills, saying that GOP senators have a habit of dragging their feet and turning “even routine matters into crises.”

“We have wasted months and months because of obstructionism,” Reid said last month.

The point of Reid’s weekend threats are to force Republicans to back down, Senate sources say.

For example, Reid on Sept. 20 threatened to cancel a scheduled recess week if a bipartisan deal on government funding could not be reached.

“If [Republicans] want to stay into next week, that’s fine, we can do that,” he said. “We can work all next week.”

A deal was struck less than a week later. 

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President Obama this summer expressed frustration with the congressional schedule amid the debt debate. 

At a press conference, Obama, directing his comments at Congress, said: “You need to be here. I’ve been here. I’ve been doing Afghanistan and [Osama] bin Laden and the Greek crisis and — you stay here. Let’s get it done.”

One day later, Reid canceled the Senate’s July Fourth recess. 

The high point for Friday votes in both chambers was in July, when the Senate voted on two Fridays and the House voted on four out of a possible five.

That stretch occurred during the intense debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, with the threat of default hanging over Congress. 

A freshman Republican legislator said earlier this year that she has been surprised about the lack of voting in the Senate. 

“I thought that we would vote on a lot more bills,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) told The Los Angeles Times this summer.

The likelihood of many Friday votes taking place in 2012, an election year, are slim.

The Senate is expected to be in session at least 23 weeks next year, but the schedule does not spell out which days of the week members will be voting. 

The House, meanwhile, will be in session on 15 Fridays. But, of course, like the Senate’s tentative schedule, the House’s calendar is subject to change.  

“As for the Senate, their work schedule is up to them,” Dayspring said. “But when they are in session, Leader Reid should stop blocking the 22 bipartisan job-creating bills that the House has passed.”

Democrats say that the House-passed bills are not jobs measures, adding that the lower chamber should pass bipartisan China currency legislation that has cleared the Senate. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month said, “Now is the time for the House Republican leadership to stand with American workers by allowing the House to pass the bipartisan China currency bill, and put more Americans back to work.”