House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Wednesday that he hopes to focus much of next year’s legislative work on jobs and the economy and would use a calendar based on regular, prolonged district work periods.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter announcing the schedule, the Virginia Republican said he hopes the calendar will “create certainty, increase efficiency and productivity in the legislative process, protect committee time and afford Members the opportunity to gain valuable input from their constituents at home.”
Like this year — when Cantor first imposed a rigid calendar of regularly scheduled district work periods of a week or more — House Members will rarely be in Washington for more than two weeks at a time. Of those longer stretches, the House will be in session for three weeks in February and for a scheduled five-week stretch from July 9 to Aug. 3.
Unlike this year, the House will mostly skip October and is scheduled to be in session for the first week of that month before breaking until Nov. 13, a week after next year’s elections. Cantor has also once again set up the schedule to give Members a number of three-day weekends, with a number of Fridays that feature no votes followed by Monday sessions where votes won’t occur until 6:30 p.m.
Not counting pro forma days during recess, the House next year will be in session a total of 109 days, compared with 104 days in 2008, during the second session of the 110th Congress, when Democrats controlled the chamber and during the last presidential election year.
In a brief interview with Roll Call, Cantor said that schedule, combined with a largely predetermined process for the annual appropriations fight, should mean Republicans can remain focused on the economy — which is likely to remain voters’ top priority in the runup to next year’s elections.
“We’re operating in a unique circumstance where you have a broad outline for the appropriations season” because of the debt deal, Cantor said. The debt deal’s spending guidelines “should allow for a much smoother appropriations process in the House and the Senate,” he said.
“I think the main focus, obviously from a legislative standpoint, is going to be jobs and the economy and how we go about making a better environment for growth to occur,” Cantor added.
As for the long work periods at home, Cantor said he is “trying to make sure Members have the ability to connect with the people who sent them here and [that] Members don’t go native.”
When Cantor initially unveiled this year’s calendar, he was criticized for rigidly sticking to a pattern of two weeks in Washington, one week at home. But the Majority Leader argued it has been a success.
“I think it has yielded results. ... [It is] a much more functioning legislative process,” Cantor said.
While few bills have ultimately made it to the president’s desk this year because of partisan gridlock, GOP aides cite a number of areas where they have been productive. Thus far this year, for instance, the House has held 907 hearings and 265 markups, which puts it on pace to have similar numbers to the 111th Congress, when committees held 2,437 hearings and 763 markups over two years.
Although the total number of measures considered on the floor is down sharply — from 986 in 2010 to 184 this year — this is in part due to the elimination of birthday and other “commemorative” bills that were brought to the floor under suspension of the rules and have long been considered frivolous.
The offset recess calendars of the House and Senate caught up to the chambers in July during the debt limit debate, when the Senate scrapped its July Fourth break and the House followed suit to cancel its July 18 break.
Correction: Oct. 27, 2011
An earlier version of this story misstated the number of days the House will be in session in 2012. The House is scheduled to be in session 109 days.