Do-nothing Congress: What does it cost us?

The Capitol Dome is seen on Capitol Hill.

There is a huge backlog of unfinished business in Congress.  Major bills on everything from immigration to food stamps to student loans are mired in gridlock, and members of Congress are getting ready for their nice, long summer break. They'll be gone most of next month. But the lack of legislative action comes with economic consequences.

Now, it’s not like Congress hasn’t passed any legislation -- it did approve the all-important Commemorative Coin Act. But it keeps passing the buck on the big stuff. An immigration bill did get through the Senate, but the House is hesitating.

And some say that’s hurting the economy. Harry Holzer teaches public policy at Georgetown University and says, “The costs are very high.”

Holzer says documented immigrants would bring more money into the U.S. treasury.

“They would pay the full range of taxes on their incomes," he explains. "And that would be a net plus. The numbers were quite striking on that.”

The numbers Holzer is talking about come from the Congressional Budget Office, which estimates the Senate immigration bill would increase the gross domestic product by more than 3 percent over 10 years. Other unfinished legislation would have a direct effect on consumers.

Take the farm bill. Brad Lubben teaches agricultural policy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He says, if Congress doesn’t pass a new farm bill by this fall, we’ll revert to 1940s-era farm policy. That would double the price of a gallon of milk.

He says, “Instead of $3 a gallon they’re $6 to $8 a gallon in the grocery store.”

Students could also get creamed by Congressional inaction. Federal student loan rates automatically doubled this month. After Congress missed a deadline. Pauline Abernathy is vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success. She says, if Congress doesn’t act, students will take a hit.

She explains, “It will cost students who enter college this year about a thousand dollars more over the life of their loan.”

So, all the political theater in Washington may be entertaining. But it isn’t cheap. For any of us.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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