Why Congress Gets So Much Vacation

Even as most Americans got ready to face the July 4th holiday weekend traffic, members of the United States Congress had already left town.

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And, when you look at the schedule, it sure looks like Congress gets a heck of a lot of time off.

Through October of 2010, Congress has scheduled 90 weekdays in which it either holds no votes or is in recess. And they haven't booked themselves a single legislative day in the month of August.

But they don’t call it “recess” anymore. Now it’s known in Washington as “District Work Period,” partly to dispel the image that members of Congress are lazing by the pool on all of those days.

And in fairness to the members of Congress, they aren’t. Most of those days are spent back in their home districts meeting with local officials, raising money, and campaigning. Especially this year, when so many incumbent members facing potential defeat in the November elections.

And we all know they work hard when they’re in town—as they did during an all night negotiating session over the financial reform bill at the end of June, finishing up at 5:40 in the morning.

In total, Congress will hold 109 workdays in Washington this year, out of a total of 199 weekdays in the period.

And even with all the campaigning and fundraising, that still leaves plenty of time for junkets and days at the beach.

The average American, though, doesn’t get nearly as much time off. According to the global consulting firm Mercer, Americans get an average of 15 vacation days and 10 public holidays each year, for a total of 25 days off.

In Brazil and Lithuania, though, the deal is a little sweeter: The two countries top Mercer’s survey, with an average of 41 days off per year.

Pat Anastasi contributed to this story.