Published 8/1/2014
Elizabeth Fassbender

August Recess Presents Opportunities

With legislators “at home,” constituents have greater access

It’s officially called a “district work period.” But most people know it as the “August recess.” Federal lawmakers have wrapped up their legislative business, cast their last votes, and headed back to their home districts and states.

By tradition and by law, Congress recesses for the month of August, putting a pause on legislative business. When the legislative break was first introduced, it enabled members of Congress to escape Washington’s summer heat and the ineffective ventilation system in congressional buildings. In 1970, with passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act, the August recess was made official, creating a more predictable legislative calendar.

The August recess is primarily used by legislators to spend time with family and voters in their home states and districts, working on constituent issues, campaigning, conducting media relations, and more. But not everyone leaves Washington in August. Congressional staff, interest groups, and other government relations professionals will take advantage of the legislative break to conduct behind-the-scenes meetings, more in-depth policy analyses, and get important initiatives ready for Congress’ return.

In-district opportunities
The legislators’ focus on constituent relations and their presence back home makes August a great time for individuals—including AAOS members—to approach their representatives’ offices about issues important to them. If you are interested in meeting with your legislator, consider requesting a meeting in the district office or simply dropping off materials with the district office staff.

As a constituent, you can also take advantage of town hall, informal meet-and-greets, or other public meetings to voice your concerns. Offering to provide your legislators with the opportunity to see your office and meet your patients and staff can also be an effective way to engage them over the August break.

Visit your congressional representatives’ websites for contact information and simply call to make a request. Aren’t sure who your representatives are? Simply go to house.gov or senate.gov and search by zip code or state.

For more information on issues to discuss, visit the AAOS office of government relations webpage (aaos.org/dc) and click on the “Get more information on advocacy issues” link. Login and you’ll find information and advocacy tools on a variety of topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act and in-office ancillary services to the Sunshine Act and the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). If you are unsure about how to conduct this kind of meeting, click on the NOLC link in the left navigation bar. You’ll find short instructional videos on what to do—and what not to do. Or contact the office of government relations at 202-546-4430 or dc@aaos.org

After August
When Congress goes back into session after Labor Day, it will tackle a slate of unfinished business, including work on appropriations bills, veterans’ health care, and debates on developments in Iraq and Ukraine, tax provisions, and various reauthorization measures. Though some headway may be made on these efforts, upcoming elections and limited legislative work days mean that progress on other policy priorities isn’t likely.

Major legislative accomplishments, especially those that are more controversial, are notoriously difficult to achieve before elections. With all representatives and approximately one-third of senators focused on their November elections, legislators need to spend significant time campaigning and are hesitant to take controversial votes.

After the election, Congress enters its “lame-duck session,” so named because not all of the sitting members of the existing Congress will be returning in the new Congress. This period provides an opportunity to pass legislation that, for a variety of reasons including political difficulty, was unable to be addressed earlier in the year. It is also the last chance for legislators who are leaving or who have lost their seats to make a final push on their legislative priorities. The lame-duck session lasts from the date of the election until the 114th Congress begins in January, although the actual number of days Congress is in session varies.

At the conclusion of the lame-duck session, any legislation that has not passed the House and Senate will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress. Additionally, if any provisions need to be extended until they can be addressed at a later date, legislators may have to pass temporary “patches” or, in the case of appropriations measures, continuing resolutions.

Elizabeth Fassbender is the communications specialist in the AAOS office of government relations. She can be reached at fassbender@aaos.org