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The August Recess

Photo of Vice President Charles Curtis

Each year, Congress recesses for the month of August. During the Senate's early years, senators typically convened a session in December and adjourned in the spring, before the summer heat overwhelmed them and their small staff. When the Senate moved to its current chamber in 1859, senators were optimistic about its "modern" ventilation system, but they found the new system ineffective. The 1920s brought "manufactured weather" to the Senate chamber, but even modern climate control could not cope with the hottest days, forcing 20th-century senators to find ways to escape the summer heat. By the mid-20th century, a more modern air conditioning system brought relief, but year-long sessions presented new problems. By the 1950s the job of a U.S. senator was a full-time, year-round job and there were very few breaks built into the legislative calendar. In 1963, for example, the Senate met from January to December without a break longer than a three-day weekend. Consequently, members of Congress sought a way to establish a summertime recess. In 1970, finally facing the reality of year-long sessions, Congress mandated a summer break as part of the Legislative Reorganization Act. Today, the August recess continues to be a regular feature of the Senate schedule, a chance for senators to spend time with family, meet with constituents in their home states, and catch up on summer reading.