Telecommuting, anyone?

April may be the cruelest month, but not for news in Washington.

That distinction is reserved for August. Congress recessed today (I’m writing this August 1) for a 5 week vacation. Bo-ring. No news, right?

Well, maybe. A group of 50 House Republicans took  the floor after the House recessed and continued debate. But it wasn’t real. No record. No video. Unless you were there (and I wasn’t, I was sitting at my desk) it might as well not have happened.

Capitol Geek Fact: the House and Senate cameras that bring you C-SPAN are the same ones that pipe through the entire Capitol complex. There is actually a whole TV network that shows almost every hearing room, too, but those don’t piped to the outside.

Why does that matter? The cameras are controlled by the leadership. Every year, C-SPAN asks if they can bring in their own cameras. And every year, C-SPAN is told no. That’s why you rarely see things like empty desks in the Senate, or the vastness of the House chamber when it’s nearly empty. And they are both generally empty.

They are watching the floor on TV, but they’re not there. They’re in their offices, or in hearings.
And when Congress isn’t in session, the cameras go off. Because there is nothing to see.

Except today, right? We probably won’t ever know what was said in that room, because there was no record. No stenographer. No recording devices or video cameras, either

Capitol Geek Fact #2: Congress recesses in August because of the oppressive humidity in Washington, DC.

Today it’s just a tradition, but an important one. August is the start of the campaign season, especially for House members. Remember, they have two jobs, and the second job is to keep the first job. So it’s not exactly a vacation.

But campaigns are different now. TV dominates. Districts are just too big. The House is capped at 435 members because otherwise, it would be incredibly large and continue to grow as the population grew. So instead we get reapportionment ever 10 years, after a Census (still done the old fashioned way, since the handheld computers the Census bureau wanted to use Failwhaled).

And there is still work to be done. Not just the “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” slogan (which could just as well be an ad for a discount dentist), but things like passing the major appropriations bills. They’re kind of a big deal. When you don’t have a budget, the government shuts down. Anyone remember that? It didn’t go over well with some people.

The House chamber has air conditioning now. It’s a fact. Members return home on the weekends regularly now. The recess is a tradition, but sometimes traditions become outmoded. Right now, the benefits are only apparent to DC residents who have less traffic to deal with and lobbyists who can take their vacations, too.

Some traditions matter. Some don’t. Would you take a month off if your project was 6 months behind schedule? And when people today are so connected to their work all the time, who would object to letting members vote remotely? The FCC has a process where members vote “on circulation.” They don’t have to meet, but their votes do happen. And things get done.

Maybe they’re onto something.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.