A couple of weeks ago, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Democratic member of Congress from Florida and head of the Democratic National Committee tweeted out a graphic she felt was an effective attack against Republicans in Congress. The picture, which you can see here, included three numbers: how many times the Republican-led House of Representatives had voted to repeal all or part of Obamacare, how many times the House voted on the President’s “jobs bill”, and how much it costs per day to keep Congress open. The thrust of the attack is that the Republicans are wasting millions upon millions of our dollars each day when they try to knock down Obamacare and do not vote on the President’s proposal.
I want to skip over the obvious flaws in her attack — that America has wanted Obamacare repealed since the day it was passed and that large “jobs bills” rarely produce jobs except for bureaucrats (see the Stumulus Bill for the most immediate example) — and focus on the third number in her graphic.
According to Rep. Wasserman-Schultz, it costs us over $30 million dollars a day to keep Congress open. I wrote about this on my personal site, The Sundries Shack, where I crunched a few numbers.
Folks, that number can not be right, can it? The Speaker of the House makes less than $250,000 a year. If every member of Congress made that much and worked the same year-round schedule you or I do, their daily salary would barely break a half million dollars. Operational costs can’t be that high either, even if you assume the Capitol is an old building and requires more daily routine maintenance than a new building. Peg that number at half-million a day, which would include the salaries of the maintenance staff. So that gets you to a million dollars.
Now, toss in a staff for each member of Congress of….what? Twenty? Fifty? Assume a way overblown salary of $100,000 a head for a staff of fifty per member of congress and that cranks you all the way up to, I believe $11 million. So, with salaries and maintenance you’re looking at $12 million, which includes a huge pad for miscellaneous costs. Where is the other $18 million? Are there that many ancillary offices that run every single day Congress is in session?
Before I answer that, let me hit you with the the truly mind-blowing number, extend that to a full session. Take the 2011 session, during which the House met for 175 days. The total freight, at $30 million a day, is five billion two hundred fifty million dollars — $5,250,000,000.
As it happens, that’s more than Congress’ proposed budget, by roughly a billion dollars.
If she is right, then we have a far bigger spending problem than we realize. Congress is only a small part of our government and, if her figure is correct, it’s roughly the size of a large regional corporation with perhaps thousands of employees that pumps millions or even billions into the economy. It’s worth noting that Congress is a net drain on the economy, especially when it is at its most “productive” producing stimulus bills and tax increases and rising budgets and “jobs bills”. It doesn’t create lasting jobs or stable economic growth. It can only, at best, take its hand off of private businesses that create the wealth in our country. Five and a quarter billion dollars a year is a pretty heavy hand, even if it is only a small part of our leviathan government.
Ending Spending’s first focus was on earmarks, those relatively small chunks of change members of Congress tossed each other as inducements to passing legislation they really wanted to pass. A single earmark, measured against the rest of the federal budget, is nothing — a few thousand dollars, perhaps a couple hundred thousand dollars — but to those of us who don’t sling around nine-figure numbers every day, one earmark is a considerable sum. So it is with Congress. You could, if you wanted, consider the outsized cost of Congress an earmark all by itself. Perhaps we should.