Do members of Congress take vacation time to campaign?

Aug 17, 2015

Jim Brinson is a CPA in San Diego, and he's a fan of the "I've Always Wondered" series. He submitted this question:

“With all of the current sitting congressmen and senators announcing their run for president, I've always wondered how they get away with campaigning. I would have to think that the campaigning gets in the way of their real job. How do they get so much time off? Do they still get paid full salary?”

Jay Hunter is the data editor for member information at CQ Roll Call and offers this answer: “They do not actually get time off, and they do get paid their full salary.”

Most members of Congress make $174,000 per year. Hunter tracks how — and how often — they vote.

“Especially this cycle," Hunter says, "a lot of the current senators who are running for president have missed a lot of votes in 2015.” He compared how often those senators showed up for votes this year compared to other members of their caucuses.

Most often absent is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has missed almost a third of his votes this year, compared to the Senate Republican average of about 3 percent.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has made almost all his votes (98.9 percent), but he’s been criticized along with others for using the Senate floor as a campaign venue. Longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch complained about it earlier this month, saying, "We must ensure that the pernicious trend of turning the Senate floor into a forum for advancing personal ambitions, for promoting political campaigns, or for enhancing fundraising activities comes to a stop.”

 But American University government professor Jennifer Lawless says missing votes doesn't necessarily mean the candidates aren't doing their jobs as senators.

“So as long as they have excellent staff, both in their district and in Washington," she says, "the overwhelming majority of their work can still get done, even if they’re on the presidential campaign trail.” Lawless says the votes candidates miss tend to be ones where their vote won’t change the outcome. Plus, as long as an opponent doesn’t bring up a poor voting record in a campaign, constituents usually don’t care.

Brinson says he now understands how the system works, but he's still not happy about it.

“My curiosity is satisfied, but I’m not satisfied," he says. "I mean, they’re neglecting their duties. I think it’s pretty bad.”

He says the relatively unproductive Congress might get more done if its members spent less time campaigning and more time legislating.