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A Week in the Life of Congress

04.26.2018 | Ben Phillips, CFA

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Despite the attention-grabbing headlines coming out of Washington D.C., Congress’s internal and procedural schedule is consistent from week to week. Even when the pace of legislation slows and bipartisanship grinds to a halt, members of Congress continue to operate under a set policy-making process. David Hawkings and the team at Roll Call, a political news coverage outlet, recently released a video highlighting Congress’s weekly schedule. Below are some of the weekly agenda items that mark each “hectic” week on Capitol Hill.


Weekend: Fly-In


Each week starts with the “fly-in”, where members fly back to Washington D.C. after spending time visiting and politicking with their constituents over the weekend. The Senate’s first roll call of the week is typically 5:30 P.M. Monday evening, while the House of Representatives’ first roll call is typically 6:30 P.M. Tuesday evening.

Monday: Bed-Check Votes


The first votes for each chamber are referred to as “bed-check votes”, where members vote on noncontroversial items. These votes can be on items such as naming post offices, honoring organizations, or confirming federal judges. Due to the uncontested, routine nature of the votes, the first roll call votes each week tend to be the most skipped by members.

Tuesday: Senate Party Lunches


Each party holds a lunch meeting Tuesday, with Democrats and Republican 100 feet apart on separate sides of the chamber floor. It’s a time where party members meet behind closed doors and debate their differences without being watched by their staffs or the press. The lunches wrap up around 2:00 PM, when leaders from each party appear before a podium of microphones to discuss the week ahead.

Wednesday: Legislative Markups & Hearings


Most hearings are held on Wednesday, although they sometimes spill over to Tuesday and Thursday. The remaining time from Tuesday afternoon through Thursday morning is typically reserved for drafting and marking up legislation. 

Thursday/Friday: Headline Legislation


Most headline worthy legislation tends to be passed near the end of the congressional work week. The House drives the process, typically scheduling votes late Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. The Senate takes up legislation after the House. Under Senate procedures, one senator can hold up the voting process, which is why the media usually focuses on the Senate when reporting dramatic legislation headlines. If the vote timeline isn’t initiated by the end of Thursday, headline worthy legislation most likely won’t be passed during the week.


Throughout the entire week, members fill their time by fundraising for themselves and the party, attending cocktail receptions and dining with various trade groups and lobbyists. Check out the full Roll Call video highlighting the inner weekly workings of Congress here.



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