The Congressional Calendar for 2016 may not be at the top of your mind, but anyone with an issue or legislation before the Congress should be laser-focused on it. Washington DC lobbyists and members of the many interests they represent pay special attention to the Calendar. Why? Consider the deeper implications of its scheduling ins and outs, and you’ll understand what they could mean for your cause in 2016.
It’s an Election Year
It’s no surprise that the Congressional schedule is decided by the leaders of the majority party, the Republicans, in this case, and the looming reality of a contentious presidential election year is the most significant influence of all, no matter which party is in power. Pundits and lobbyists have been busy analyzing the 2016 Calendar like rabid baseball fans with a book of team stats, and they observe some predictable and some mysterious signs in the document.
For example, the House has scheduled itself to be in session for 111 days, fewer than the total days it will be gone, which total 149. This does sound like inside baseball, and it reveals that the Congress is following a similar pattern to the pre-campaign year of 2006, which had even fewer active days.1
Members of Congress will be busy supporting—or avoiding—one or another of their party’s presidential candidates this year, and, at the same time, many will be campaigning to retain their own seats. The big blank spaces on the Calendar tell this tale, with the hallowed halls of Congress completely dark for strategic chunks of time, including the usual summer recess (half of July and all of August) plus all of October, on through to the election in early November.
Issues Likely to Dominate in 2016
Besides its essential role as legislative branch, Congress takes seriously its role in government oversight, monitoring activities of government agencies and, especially, the executive branch. Legislators hold a powerful center spot on the media stage, influencing public opinion through events like hearings on hot issues that could sway voters one way or another.
Here are some examples that are likely to occupy Congressional leaders, dominate the media, and possibly swing the election. Keep in mind, the party in power holds major sway over the ultimate choice of issues brought front and center, as they have the chairmanships of Senate and House committees.
National security and international relations will dominate in 2016, providing the most bang for the buck in terms of media impact, and offering a wealth of issues that will be debated in election campaigns across the spectrum, including:
- ISIS and counter-terrorism. In light of recent shocking attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, our intelligence community and the executive branch are both pursuing information on the effectiveness of advance warning systems. Congress, in turn, is interested in the competence and good intentions of the intelligence community and the President.2
- Security and hacking, in which vital government agencies, including the IRS and the CIA director, have been hacked for highly sensitive information. Investigations will look into weaknesses and accountability in their cyber security systems.2
- The Benghazi Attack, and the related controversy of Hillary Clinton’s use of her private email account, will continue to fuel investigations. Overheated prior hearings in 2015 had cooled in light of one committee member’s admission that they were partly motivated by their potential to damage the Clinton campaign, but there are signs it will heat up again through 2016 to illustrate Clinton’s weaknesses.2
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