WASHINGTON -- The House will be in session less than one out of every three days next year, a slight decline from past years. House Republicans say they are running the place more efficiently and lawmakers need the time to be with constituents in an election year. Democrats say that's too few days on the job during an economic crisis.
The announcement of the 2012 schedule even led to a Twitter battle between the press offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and the No. 2 Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, over how Congress is being run.
"As with this year, the goal of next year's calendar is to create certainty and productivity in the legislative process, protect committee time and afford members the opportunity to gain valuable input from their constituents at home," Cantor said in a letter to colleagues as he released the calendar scheduling 109 legislative days in 2012.
Under the tentative calendar, the House would have only six voting days in January. There would be three working days in August, when Congress usually takes off, and the House would be off from Oct. 5 until a week after Election Day on Nov. 6. The last scheduled session of the year would be on Dec. 14.
In 2008, the last presidential election year when Democrats controlled the House, the House met for 119 days.
"The American people deserve better," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said at a news conference, referring to congressional inaction on creating jobs and the House's six-day schedule in January. "We have work to do."
Hoyer said the House has had only 111 days of legislative business this year and the floor schedule "has prevented the House from getting anything done to create jobs."
Republicans responded at a news conference where they highlighted what they called the "forgotten 15," bills that the House has passed and Republicans say will lead to job growth but which the Democratic-controlled Senate has ignored.
The 15 bills focus on promoting development of domestic energy and reducing or eliminating regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.
Differences over the schedule and who's to blame for lack of productivity played out on Twitter. Cantor's office derided the "fake outrage" of Hoyer and Pelosi and claimed that the House will be in session more days than it was under Democratic control.
Hoyer's office shot back, "You mean days like today when last votes started before 11 a.m. and we jetted out of town for the week?"
House Republicans, when they gained the majority in January, put into effect several changes to make the chamber operate more smoothly. They reduced the number of votes on minor legislation such as naming post offices, cut back on morning votes so committee hearings would not be interrupted, and reduced late-night sessions. Cantor said the House has taken 800 roll call votes through Oct. 14 this year, compared to 565 last year.
The Library of Congress says the House has met 139 times through Wednesday. That includes several dozen "pro forma" sessions that last a few minutes and where no business is conducted. This year such sessions have been convened to prevent President Barack Obama from making federal appointments when Congress is away.
The number hasn't varied much in recent years, with legislative sessions generally going down in election years. According to the Library of Congress, the House met 127 times in 2010, 159 times in 2009, 119 times in 2008 and 164 times in 2007.The Senate has met 136 times so far this year and convened 157 times last year, including pro forma sessions.