As Tara Golshan notes in Vox, with only two weeks left to pass a spending bill, Congress will be spending a total of three days in sessions. Congress has been punting the spending bill for months now, and until Democrats and Republicans are able to reach an agreement that includes protections for DREAMers, it seems short-term spending agreements will continue to be passed.
Congress only has three working days between today and the next shutdown deadline on February 8... Congressional Republicans and Democrats will spend the greater part of the next two weeks out of Washington on retreat: the annual meetings that give parties time to strategize their legislative priorities for the year ahead.
Congress has been under fire for taking what many view as an excessive amount of vacation. The 2018 Congressional Calendar shows both chambers of Congress plan to be in session only 123 days out of the entire year—which comes out to roughly 18 hours of work a week. While this number is not that far off what it's been in the past, critics argue the unique dysfunction in Washington today calls for members of Congress to work harder.
President Trump apparently shares this sentiment, and many pressured the president to use his executive power to call Congress into session during their August recess last year.
Coupled with the GOP Senate’s epic fail on Obamacare, after which senators headed to the beach for their own month-long hiatus, the Republican Congress’s lassitude is breathtaking. Extremely urgent matters pile up, unattended, and the Republicans who ran and got elected to address them with free-market ideas are, too often, AWOL. President Donald J. Trump evidently has been appalled at his fellow Republicans’ acute vacation-itis.
But as Christopher Beam explains in Slate, Congressional recess is hardly a vacation. Recess allows representatives to maintain a strong relationship with their constituents by returning to their home districts with regularity. If Congress stayed in D.C. all the time, they'd likely become more out-of-touch than the American people already believe they are.
Members of Congress don't like to think of themselves as on vacation, which is why they call their recesses "work breaks" or "home-district periods" rather than "time off." Depending on how safe their seat is—and the proximity of the next election—members will probably spend some portion of the recess attending town halls, meeting with community leaders, or visiting local haunts like barbershops to take their district's temperature.
Beam also points out that historically, being a member of Congress was considered a part-time job, and Congress works many more days now than they used to.
Throughout the 19th century, being a representative or senator was a part-time job—six months in Washington, six months back home, with legislative sessions beginning in December and ending in May... These abbreviated work schedules were the result, in large part, of how difficult it was to travel cross-country. Even by rail, it took more than a week to get from California to Washington, D.C. Plus, Congress simply had less to do than it does now.
Retreats also allow for party members to strategize their legislative priorities and hone their message. Members of Congress aren't just lounging by a pool, they're planning with their colleagues for the year ahead.