It must be recess.
Vince Burke traveled to Washington from Arizona with his wife, Joycelee and their two kids, Keara and Nathan. They brought the kids to the Capitol this morning hoping to witness lawmakers in action, but found out Congress was out of session just steps too late – they were already inside. The family decided to make the best of it and took in the art and architecture. They even waited patiently to get into the House Gallery to see the empty chamber. On their way out Mr. Burke admitted it was a bit disappointing.
"You get one shot and that's it," he said. "This is the high season for tourists coming through. You'd think they'd be here."
Many Americans scrunch their nose at the idea that elected officials take "recess." After all, what are their tax dollars paying for?
The reality is that lawmakers usually take the time to return to their states or districts for important face time with constituents. They visit schools and factories and speak at Rotary Club lunches, and cut ribbons at grand openings. Going home is important for lawmakers to prove that they haven't gone "too Washington." And, on the House calendar, these times are technically called a "District Work Period."
For congressional staffers and journalists left behind, recess is a time to catch up. Time for much-needed research, time to work on feature stories and time to just catch your breath. There's also finally a chance for congressional staffers and journalists to meet for coffees and lunches to talk about news coming down the pike.
Nick Simpson, press secretary for House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, says the pace when Congress is in session would be hard to keep going all year round. And, what's more, the boss would never get to see people in their district. When lawmakers are in town, Simpson leaves at 7 p.m. on a light work day. During recess, he says: "I actually get to leave when it's still light out!"
Jodi Breisler, a radio reporter at Capitol News Connection with PRI, told CBS News that the best part of recess is that you finally get to think and get caught up. "I'm setting up interviews, I'm doing production and getting ... my Marantz (radio equipment) fixed," she says.
Breisler also admits that there is the added bonus of Capitol Hill happy hours, wearing sundresses, and being surrounded by people in jeans instead of the usual Washington power suits.
Of course, there comes a point at the end of every recess when most people get the itch for the daily deadlines and general flurry of activity that's expected on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Barack Obama stepped into a swarm of superdelegates this morning when he visited the House of Representatives in the middle of a vote. Obama stayed on the floor for almost half an hour visiting with both Democrats and Republicans who looked completely star struck.
Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi left her weekly press briefing and made a beeline for the House floor to say hello. And the Capitol Hill press corps surrounded the House Chamber to catch him on his way out and fire questions about such an unusual move for a presidential candidate, even if he is a senator.
"I wasn't campaigning, I was just saying hello to everybody," Obama said.
Evan Aanerud is an engineering student with two quarters of classes left at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is also an Iraq War veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.
At a rally today on Capitol Hill, Aanerud told his story and shared his struggles to about 100 veterans gathering to support legislation that would update the Montgomery GI Bill. Aanerud told the crowd that when he started school he received just $282 per month. And one year ago, his benefits completely ran out.
"I was proud of my service, but after putting my life on the line, it would have been nice to get the benefits we expected," Aanerud said.
In the next month, Congress is expected to take on the GI legislation as part of a spending bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., sponsored the legislation along with Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. It would reward veterans who've served on active duty at any time since September 11, 2001, with more money for college. And it would expand coverage for soldiers who've served in the National Guard and Reservists like Evan Aanerrud. The benefits would also normally last for a full 36 months and could be used within 15 years of active duty discharge.
Webb, a Vietnam veteran, called on his colleagues at today's rally to back the bill.
"It's time for those of us who've been calling on them to serve again and again, to assist them in providing the most tangible thanks our country can offer and that is a meaningful chance for a first-class future," Webb said.
The bill would also give the Department of Veterans' Affairs primary responsibility implementing the reforms. Currently, distribution of benefits is divided between that agency, the Department of Education and the Department of Defense.
General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker returned to Capitol Hill this morning to make the case that despite recent violence in Iraq, political progress and economic progress are on the rise as a result of the troop surge.
But all eyes - and camera lenses - in the packed Armed Services Committee room were on Sens. John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Both presidential candidates took time away from the campaign trail to attend the hearing. Sen. Barack Obama is not on the committee, but will hear from Petraeus and Crocker later this afternoon at a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. It's a rare opportunity for voters to see the candidates in action, talking war and asking tough questions.