What is the cost of a House vote?

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (L) meet as the House of Representatives consider the 'Repeal of Obamacare Act' in Washington, DC, on July 11, 2012.

Say this for Republicans in the House of Representatives, they're nothing if not determined. Today they held the 33rd vote in the past 18 months to repeal the health care law. It passed, like all the others before it, along party lines.

Being that there is no such thing as a free lunch, all this symbolic voting must actually cost something, right? 

It’s really hard to break down the cost of a vote in Congress. In fact, none of the congressional watchdog groups in Washington have done it. So we had to do our own, back-of-the envelope calculation. We figured out how much we spend per day on salaries and office costs for members of the House of Representatives and their staffs. The grand total? Almost $2 million every day. Are repeat, symbolic votes worth the cost? 

Not if you ask Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution. "Congress has become almost a joke," he says.

Mann says the House’s health care repeal votes are a waste, because the Senate won’t vote to repeal the health care law. Mann says it’s just a way to score political points.

But Jim Harper of the CATO Institute says, the House is using the repeal vote to send a message to voters. "We the House Republicans really want to get rid of Obamacare," says Harper. "Democrats likewise want to signal to the public that they want to keep it."

But Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense says, the message got through on the first few repeal votes. Still, he says Congress does have days when it gets things done in a flurry of votes. Both symbolic and substantial.

"You know they went through this marathon of days and days of offering amendments and voting on it.  That was like legislative porn. I was lovin' it," says Ellis.

Well, at least somebody’s happy.


About our math: We calculated the cost of a vote by totallilng the annual salary of 435 House members. Then we added that to the total amount of annual allocations each House office receives. Finally, we divided that by 366 days in 2012 to determine the total cost per day. Click here to check our math.

Kai Ryssdal: Say this for Republicans in the House of Representatives, they're nothing if not determined. Today they held the 33rd vote in the past 18 months to repeal the health care law. It passed, like all the others before it, along -- yes -- party lines.

Going nowhere in the Senate, but it did occur to us that, there being no such thing as a free lunch, all this symbolic voting must actually cost something, right? We asked Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer to take a look.


Nancy Marshall-Genzer: It’s really hard to break down the cost of a vote in Congress. In fact, none of the congressional watchdog groups in Washington have done it. So we had to do our own, back-of-the envelope calculation. We figured out how much we spend per day on salaries and office costs for members of the House of Representatives and their staffs. The grand total? Almost $2 million every day. Are repeat, symbolic votes worth the cost? 

Not if you ask Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

Thomas Mann: Congress has become almost a joke.

Mann says the House’s health care repeal votes are a waste, because the Senate won’t vote to repeal the health care law. Mann says it’s just a way to score political points.

But Jim Harper of the CATO Institute says, the House is using the repeal vote to send a message to voters.

Jim Harper: We the House Republicans really want to get rid of Obamacare. Democrats likewise want to signal to the public that they want to keep it.

But Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense says, the message got through on the first few repeal votes. Still, he says Congress does have days when it gets things done in a flurry of votes. Both symbolic and substantial. 

Steve Ellis:  You know they went through this marathon of days and days of offering amendments and voting on it.  That was like legislative porn. I was lovin' it.

Well, at least somebody’s happy.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

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

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