The event is traditionally held in June. Lawmakers’ children are out of school then, and congressional spouses who live back in their districts can more easily attend. Congress’ work schedule, involving more days in session than usual for lawmakers, is also a factor.
It’s an informal event and one that has assumed a certain bipartisan importance since the members of the two parties don’t mix or socialize after work the way they used to. And the harsh campaign taskmasters who have set up the congressional schedule, especially the House’s, have designed it so that even in one of the rare full workweeks, members are out of the capital on Friday morning and not due back until midday Monday.
In a terse notice Monday afternoon, the White House Office of Legislative Affairs simply said that the event would not take place this month, but, “We are hopeful that we will be able to reschedule this event for September.”
House Speaker John Boehner called the decision “just silly.”
One theory, more popular among Republicans than Democrats, was that the picnic was canceled to dramatize the folly of the sequester, the automatic across-the-board budget cuts Washington is struggling with.
But the congressional picnic is hardly a high-dollar event — hamburgers, hot dogs, soft drinks and beer. Besides, the president could easily pay for it out of his $50,000 nontaxable expense account or his $19,000 official entertainment account, sums constitutionally protected from the sequester.
Few Washingtonians are so jaded that they are not thrilled by an invitation to the White House, and that is equally true for members of Congress. Fairly or unfairly, Obama has a reputation for being aloof and not a skilled practitioner of the backslapping bonhomie of the congressional cloakroom.
Postponing a traditional event popular with Congress on short notice — and with no explanation — is likely one reason why.