The first session of the 117th Congress is set to feature an extra-long August recess for the House, with the chamber continuing the pandemic practice of holding work weeks for committee action when there won’t be business on the floor.
The House is expected to convene at noon on Jan. 3 as specified in the Constitution, which will be a bit unusual in 2021, since that falls on a Sunday. Members will be on Capitol Hill for a week, including the joint session for the counting of electoral votes, before departing until Inauguration Day.
In announcing the calendar, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., noted that the schedule is always subject to change, which has been a particular reality in 2020 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Committee work days may be changed to voting days with sufficient notice. The 2021 schedule seeks to balance voting days, Committee work days, and days for Members to conduct important business in their districts,” Hoyer said in a notice accompanying the schedule.
At his Wednesday pen-and-pad session with reporters, Hoyer said there was a possibility the Jan. 3 convening could be moved, but there are some hurdles.
“I’ve put out a notice that says members ought to plan on being here on the third. As you know, that’s been the constitutional date, but the Constitution also says we can set alternative dates and frankly we have set alternative dates more frequently than not. And that may happen. But we believe that prudence calls for us making sure that members understand that currently we are scheduled to come back on [Jan.] 3. Unfortunately, that’s a Sunday. It is inconvenient for members, but the Constitution says we can have an alternative date but it needs to be set by law. So that we would have to pass a bill, the Senate would have to pass a bill, the president would have to sign a bill. We’re not sure that can be done so we’re providing and letting members know that Sunday, the 3rd at 12 noon, is the date that they ought to be expecting to show up and be sworn in to the Congress.”
He added, “The alternative date would be probably the 5th. We want to be in session ready to receive the report of the electoral college, obviously on the 6th.”
According to the Maryland Democrat, there are 101 days planned for votes and another 59 planned for committee activity.
In conjunction with the release of the calendar, House chairmen and women issued statements praising the continuation of the committee business days.
“I want to thank Leader Hoyer for setting a schedule that prioritizes moving legislation through committees and to the Floor. This will make it easier for Members to get their bills considered and to deliver on our promises to our constituents,” Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts said. “These successful weeks allowed us to safely and efficiently carry out our work for most of this past year, and it’s the right call to continue them in the next Congress.”
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, highlighted the transition to remote work on the part of House committees.
“I am very pleased that the 2021 calendar includes Committee work periods to ensure that we can continue to build on our record. Thanks to the hard work of Members and staff, the Committee has swiftly adapted to use technology to carry out the people’s business in historic virtual hearings, roundtables, and briefings. The Committee has safely held 23 hearings during the pandemic, 18 of which have been fully virtual, and 5 of which have convened in a ‘hybrid’ format that allows for remote Member participation,” Waters said.
The most interesting quirk of the 2021 schedule might be the traditional August recess. When the House floor closes for business on Friday, July 30, there will only be district work periods and committee work weeks until Monday, Sept. 20, where the push might well be on to pass government funding legislation before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
The break in floor action appeared to be prompted by the timing of the Jewish holidays in September. Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Labor Day in 2021.
There are 23 scheduled full weeks in session for floor votes according to the calendars circulated Wednesday by House Democratic and Republican leaders. That is in addition to the time for committee business.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.