Brian Faughnan at Liberty Central found this objection to one of the House Republican’s plans to read the US Constitution aloud at Vanity Fair, which Brian called “the stupidest column” ever to run at the magazine. While that may be a high bar — or low one, depending on your point of view — to clear, the report from Juli Weiner certainly qualifies to be in the running. In an attempt to shed scorn over GOP efforts at fiscal responsibility, she and author Peter Keating attempt to calculate the cost of reading the document aloud:
It would seem that in an era of Fiscal Responsibility™, a performative rendition of the Constitution might have been one such eliminated endeavor. For an estimate on just how much the Republicans would have saved if they had decided against the tedious exercise, VF Daily checked with Peter Keating, the co-author of “The Cost of No” and VF.com’s resident expert on Congressional wastefulness.
“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. Even Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Mike Pence (R-IN) combined don’t blow enough hot air to heat the Capitol in January.”
Ha ha! Yes, we can tell that this analysis is strictly non-partisan. Say, how much did Nancy Pelosi’s speech, complete with its rambling partisan defense, cost us? Wait, Vanity Fair and Keating are too busy venting outrageous outrage over the reading of the foundational legal document that members of Congress swear to uphold and defend.
How do VF and Keating reach their conclusions? They take the cost-per-minute of the House being in session, complete apparently to the cost of cleaning staffs, and apply that to the time needed to read the Constitution. Of course, this is simply bunk. The House did not come to session to read the Constitution, so those fixed costs — including salaries — would have been spent already regardless of whatever gets said on the floor. The cost doesn’t come from the reading; it comes from the existence of Congress itself.
There isn’t even any opportunity cost involved, since the reading of the Constitution won’t prevent any other business from being conducted. It will take much less time to read the Constitution than to, say, name post offices and hear debate over whether to designate February as National Toothpick Month, complete with testimonials to the toothpick industry and how it contributed to the greatness of America by removing the remains of porkchops from the teeth of red-blooded Americans. There actually isn’t much extra cost in those efforts either, except for the paper needed to publish the bills, because once again, Congress would already be in session. Those cases matter because politicians like to use those resolutions to claim productivity, when in fact they’re wasting time — but not much money.
The idea behind reading the Constitution is to remind lawmakers of the limited power and jurisdiction the document grants the federal government. What has it cost the US to ignore those restrictions? Just take a look at the national debt for the answer to that question.