We have written a number of posts about Lame Duck congresses and what happens at the beginning of a new Congress, but we thought this year we would take a moment to talk about what happens during the second session of a Congress.
Before the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, Congress began on March 4 in the year after an election. When I am doing research on Congressional actions during the 19th century, I always enjoy looking at the dates of the various Congressional sessions in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation under the Debates of Congress section. For example, The Congressional Globe reflects that there were three sessions in the 25th Congress: September 4, 1837 – October 16, 1837; December 4, 1837 – July 9, 1838; and the third session from December 3, 1838 – March 5, 1839. However, since 1933 Congressional sessions follow the calendar year. The first session runs from January to December in an odd numbered year and the second session runs from January to December in the following even numbered year, though on occasion, the first session or even the second may continue into the first few days of the next year. For example the 112th Congress was in session until January 3, 2013 – the House of Representatives adjourned at 11:56am and then the House for the 113th assembled at noon.
Most things stay the same rather than changing during the second session of Congress. Representatives and new senators are sworn in at the beginning of the first session of a Congress and do not need to be sworn in again. Indeed much less pomp and ceremony attend the start of a second session of a Congress. Legislation which was introduced in the first session of a Congress can be taken up during the second session. New legislation can be introduced and passed during the second session as well – and can be tracked through Congress.gov. In preparation for the upcoming fiscal year, Congress will usually pass budget resolutions and then authorization and appropriation legislation. The 113th Congress recently passed H.J. Res 59 which set the overall spending levels for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015. Generally the rules governing each chamber are not changed at the beginning of a second session although the Constitution allows either chamber to amend its rules at its discretion. In addition to considering legislation, the second year of a Congress is an election year. According to Article 1, section 2 of the United States Constitution, all the seats in the House will be up for election. In the Senate, under Article 1, section 3, one third of the Senate seats are up for election during the second year of a Congress. The Senate has broken up their members into three “classes” according to the year in which their term expires: in 2015 it is Class II senators whose terms end. Although congressional elections in an “off-year,” e.g. not in a presidential election year, are often seen as being of less interest nationally, they are important since Congress constitutes one of the three branches of government established in the Constitution.