$1.1 Million to Read the Constitution in the House?

Via VF Daily we are told:  Republicans to Spend $1.1 Million Reciting Constitution on House Floor.

Quoting Peter Keating the numbers go something like this:

The amount I get is nearly $1.1 million. $1,071,872.87, to be exact, though of course this is more back-of-the-envelope than exact.

When one chamber of Congress is in session but not working, we the people still have to pay for members’ salaries and expenses, and for their police protection, and for keeping their lights and phones and coffee machines on.

This is silliness that is frequently trotted out to show how a specific action by a politician is a waste of money.  The problem here is that most, if not all, of the expenses in question would be incurred whether the House was having its recitation of the Constitution or not.  The above makes it sound like US Representatives get paid by the hour or that they are like NFL players who only get their game checks on days they hit the field.  It isn’t like they turn off the lights and the heat in the Capitol when Representatives are not on the floor (or that the phone company gives a discount when callas aren’t made).   Yes, there will be fluxuations in utilities cost based on precisely what the Congress is doing on a given (after all, more people in the building means more flushes, amongst other things), but the issue here is what the overall average costs are, not what a given day may or may not cost.

Further, given that they just got sworn in yesterday, it wasn’t as if they were all going to shutter the place and go home today.  Even if they weren’t planning on being on the floor day save for the Constitution reading stunt (and yes, it is a stunt) they would still be in DC consuming various resources.

So, enough with this kind of cost “analysis” which partisans of various stripes like to engage in regarding any number of governmental activities.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. People who spend their time coming up with figures like this have no understanding of the concept of “sunk costs”

  2. Joanne S. says:

    Oh how ridiculous. Everyone is getting paid anyway, and if legislators want to read the Constitution into the record, that is their prerogative–and it’s a very important to us Americans. May they read the Bill of Rights, next!!!

  3. Franklin says:

    May they read the Bill of Rights, next!!!

    Uh, Joanne … mmm, nevermind.

  4. Jack says:

    Perhaps if certain people hadn’t complained about the cost of President Obama’s trip to India, then this particular bit of nonsense wouldn’t have been generated.

    You reap what you sow.

  5. tom p says:

    Did not their oath of office require them to “defend and protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic?” Don’t these assholes already know what is in the Constitution? Are they really that stupid?

    Oh, wait a minute, we are talking about Congress. Not like they were going to accomplish anything anyway.

    Still, I wonder how my boss would feel if he paid me for doing something on his time that I should be doing on my time?

  6. Josie says:

    Good point– and given that there is absolutely no other better use of the time, what a great idea! Yup, no problems at all to be solved…

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I think they should read aloud the names of their major corporate contributors. So much more informative.

  8. Jay Tea says:

    Actually, I’d say this probably saved money. While they were reading the Constitution (always a good idea, in and of itself), they weren’t raising taxes, borrowing money, or spending money, so I’d wager it was a net gain.


  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Jay, what do you think of Michael Reynolds picture? I find it revealing and helps me understand his opinions better.

  10. sam says:

    I didn’t catch the reading, but I understand that they were going to leave out the embarrassing parts, you know stuff like “importation of Persons” at Article 1, Section 9 for the slave trade, “other persons” at Article 1, Section 2, and “person held to service or labor” at Article 4, Section 2.
    Did they read this stuff? Anybody know?

  11. @Sam:

    It is my understanding that they read it as amended, which actually makes sense, as the document as amended is what has legal force in the now.

  12. sam says:

    Ah, Ok. That does make sense. (Only, there’s that piece of parchment under glass in the capitol…ah hell, nevermind. I’m feeling cranky today.)

  13. tom p says:

    >>>Jay, what do you think of Michael Reynolds picture? >>>

    Zels, what does MRs particularly bad picture have to do with anything? His arguments look much better than yours do…. Maybe that is why you don’t post your own pic… you are afraid you look as stupid as your arguments?

    If you have a pertinent point to make about something Michael said, make it. Otherwise….

    ahhh forget it…