On Saturday??
March 20, 2010 9:29 AM   Subscribe

What leads to congress assembling on the weekend?

Congress met on the weekend a few months ago for the healthcare bill when it didn't pass, and meeting again today and tomorrow.

What kind of sequence of events leads to congress working on the weekend? How common is this really?

I'm trying to understand how unique this type of event is (assembling on the weekend) and/or how difficult it is to initiate (how much effort/political capital needed to be expended to make it happen?)
posted by qbxk to Law & Government (3 answers total)
The Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives has this to say about Congress meeting on Saturdays and Sundays, since its inception.
posted by paulsc at 11:00 AM on March 20, 2010

paulsc gave you a good link for the historical context. I can tell you in the present day that the schedules are set by the majority leadership in each chamber, and that it's not horribly uncommon.

The threat of a weekend session is often used in a strategic sense -- i.e. everybody wants to get back to their districts for Winter Recess (or August recess, or whatever) but nobody gets to leave until this Very Important Thing is completed.

Short of a do-or-die, presidential priority #1 type thing like healthcare, it's most often used for appropriations bills or the Defense Authorization Bill or Continuing Resolutions to keep the government from shutting down when they haven't actually finished the appropriations bills.

Rep. Joe Schmoe is never going to get a weekend session for a vote on his Piddly Inconsequential Act of 2010, no matter how much political capital he might attempt to expend. They know that, so they don't even try.

The leadership, on the other hand, isn't really expending any political capital to make it happen for something Very Important -- they simply notify Members that the vote will occur on Saturday/Sunday, and anyone who doesn't feel like showing up has to explain to their constituents why they couldn't be bothered to vote on the Very Important Issue.

Often, under the threat of a weekend session, Congress will work late into the evening (early into the morning, actually) instead. However, if they can tell that no amount of late night work will complete the task at hand, they'll usually go straight to the weekend session instead. The times they won't go to a weekend session are when they believe there's too much more work/negotiation/etc. to complete something over the weekend anyway, so might as well pick it back up next week/after recess.

tl;dr: Late night sessions are more common then weekend sessions, but for Very Important Things, they do what they gotta do.
posted by somanyamys at 10:06 PM on March 20, 2010

POTUS postponed a trip to Asia because the bill hadn't yet passed. Once it passes, POTUS wants to be able to sign it right away both to get the positive PR (why he should sign at the White House instead of, say, on Air Force One or something) and so that the House can proceed right away with reconciliation on the more controversial aspects of the bill on which the House and Senate differ. Hence why this is a Very Important Thing.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2010

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