America is currently going through one of its most partisan, divisive periods of political discourse in living memory. President Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives on Dec. 18, 2019 — and he’s only the third U.S. president to face a Senate trial, since former President Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could impeach him.
For many, impeaching Trump was a necessary move to put a check on the power of the executive branch and uphold the Constitution. And for others, it was a partisan swipe expected to deal irreparable harm to the presidency itself. Regardless of which side you’re on — or if you’re just sick of all the fighting — the question that matters is exactly how much this process is costing American taxpayers.
Unfortunately, getting a clear answer to that question isn’t easy, and as with most political debates these days, there’s a large amount of misinformation swirling around. Here’s what we know about the costs associated with the impeachment inquiry and vote, which might help determine whether Trump is the best president for your finances.
Last updated: Jan. 3, 2020
Fake News: It's Not $40 Million
There has been plenty of fake news surrounding Trump’s impeachment, including some efforts to really stretch the truth about how the impeachment inquiry is paid for and what it costs.
One viral Facebook post, which made the rounds back in November 2019, claimed that Democrats had spent $40 million trying to impeach the president — and that’s false. It appeared to include the total cost of Robert Mueller’s investigation, which wasn’t part of the impeachment inquiry.
Sure, if you view the Mueller investigation as part of a larger, overarching effort to impeach Trump, you might feel that it’s appropriate to factor in the cost. However, it’s also worth noting that the Mueller report didn’t make it into the articles of impeachment, and Democrats didn’t launch their impeachment inquiry in response to the report’s release.
More Fake News: It's Not $2.4 Billion
Another story that made the rounds implied that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was diverting a whopping $2.4 billion from Social Security to cover the cost of impeachment. This was complete nonsense, as it originated on a site called PotatriotsUnite.com that describes itself as satirical.
What Are the Actual Costs of Impeachment?
Fortunately, the impeachment inquiry and vote likely didn’t cost any more than the usual congressional business. Given that Congress is on a salary and its facilities are owned by the government, the money spent handling the inquiry would have been used elsewhere anyway. So, in terms of additional costs to American taxpayers, it’s essentially zero — you’re already paying for Congress’ time, one way or the other.
But if you’re of the opinion that the entire process has just been a case of partisan bickering, it’s an argument for determining exactly how much members of Congress and their staffers were paid for the hours they spent on impeaching Trump. Assuming those hours would have otherwise been spent on important, productive business essential to the prosperity of the American people, you could say that the wages paid during the impeachment hearing were a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Getting Precise Figures Is Likely Impossible
Keep in mind that differentiating the hours spent by each House member and staffer on the impeachment inquiry as opposed to other matters of congressional business is likely an impossible task. However, if you’re interested in a ballpark figure, you could calculate a broad estimate based on the total budget for each House member’s office, prorated by the number of legislative days that included impeachment hearings or votes.
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Calculation: Members of Congress Are Compensated $7,200.23 per Day
A member of the U.S. House of Representatives earns $174,000 per year. So, given that the House was in session for 191 days in 2019, that works out to a salary of $910.99 per day. Each House member is also provided with a budget of $944,671 to cover staff costs and another $256,574 to cover office expenditures.
After dividing those costs by 191 days in session and adding the resulting figures to the base salary, you’ll come to $7,200.23 per House member for daily wages and office costs.
Calculation: The House Spent 33 Days On Impeachment
The total number of days spent on the impeachment inquiry and then the vote comes out to 33 days. That includes 31 days of committee hearings — 27 by the House Intelligence Committee, three by the House Judiciary Committee and one by the Rules Committee — as well as two days with the full House, when it voted to approve the official resolution beginning the inquiry and when it debated and then passed the articles of impeachment.
So, with 22 members on the House Intelligence Committee, 41 on the House Judiciary Committee, 13 on the Rules Committee and 435 in the House as a whole, that collectively adds up to 1,600 individual days — accounting for each House member’s wages — committed to the impeachment process.
Total Taxpayer Bill: $11,520,368
To get a rough estimate for the cost of compensating members of Congress and their staffers for handling the various committee hearings and votes related to impeachment, you’ll need to calculate the payment for 1,600 individual days at $7,200.23 apiece. That adds up to a total of $11,520,368 — the cost of impeaching Trump.
For Every Dollar of Your 2019 Taxes, That's $0.0000026 Spent On Impeachment
While $11.52 million is no paltry sum by the standards of most Americans, it’s not much in the context of the net $4.4 trillion that the federal government spent in 2019. Impeachment cost 0.00026% of the total budget — or roughly one-four-thousandth of a penny for every dollar spent. If you were to fold in the $32 million from the Mueller investigation, as some might, you’d get to 0.00099% — or just short of one-thousandth of a penny for every dollar spent by the federal government in 2019.
Again, it’s worth noting that canceling the impeachment push from the start wouldn’t have saved taxpayers $12 million. Regardless, that money would have been allocated to other areas of congressional business.
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The Out-Of-Pocket Costs for Testifying Officials
One cost of impeachment that might slip under the radar is the bills accrued by anyone who agrees to testify. The New York Times reported that legal costs incurred by some testifying State Department employees have run as high as $15,000, based on the $750-$1,500 hourly rate charged by the lawyers who specialize in this area.
The good news is that there have been efforts to raise money to help these civil servants afford their legal bills. An appeal from the union that represents them raised about $250,000 to cover the costs for nine of the 17 witnesses.
Cost of the Mueller Investigation
Some people might argue that the formal impeachment inquiry and vote were part of a much longer, ongoing push by Democrats that also included the Mueller investigation. The price tag of that report was $32 million, based on expenditure filings from the Justice Department. However, much of that figure reflects the salaries of FBI employees who would have been assigned elsewhere had there been no inquiry. So, even if you feel that the impeachment process was wasted time, the money was still going to be spent.
Comparison: Cost of the Starr Report
Any Republicans crying crocodile tears over the costs of investigating Trump might be papering over how their party approached the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton back in 1998. The sprawling investigation by Ken Starr began with Whitewater and continued searching for wrongdoing until it turned up Linda Tripp. The scandal resulted in Clinton committing perjury and getting impeached.
All told, Starr’s report ended up costing about $52 million — or over 60% more than the Mueller report. And that’s before accounting for inflation. In today’s dollars, the price tag of the Starr report comes out to approximately $82 million, which is more than twice as expensive as the Mueller report.
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To Politicians, the True Cost of Impeachment Isn't About Money
Americans won’t really know the cost of impeachment until the first Tuesday of November 2020. How Trump’s impeachment impacts the presidential election is what actually matters in the grand scheme of things, and as such, the true cost of impeachment for Democrats and Republicans won’t come down to money. Both parties have risked a lot in terms of how they’ve approached the process, and they might eventually look back on this moment and wish they had done things differently.
The (Metaphorical) Cost for Democrats
Democrats are convinced that they’re taking an important stand for the Constitution and rule of law, even if a Senate conviction and removal from office aren’t likely. The concern for many Democrats is that impeachment might ultimately backfire, making them look like partisans trying to unseat a duly elected president heading into the 2020 election. That could end up energizing Trump’s loyal base and boosting Republican turnout on Election Day.
If Democrats fail to convince Americans that they’re taking an important, justified stand, it could cost them dearly by handing Trump a second term and losing hard-won seats in the House.
The (Metaphorical) Cost for Republicans
Republicans appear to be counting on Trump as their standard-bearer, but Trump is among the least popular presidents in American history, based on the polls. While Trump is nearly untouchable with his party’s most reliable voters, he’s also a controversial figure who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million and has had consistently low approval ratings since the beginning of his term. By refusing to engage in the impeachment process, Republicans also run the risk of looking like they’re rubber-stamping the potentially unconstitutional actions of the current president.
Given that Trump narrowly managed victory in 2016 based on thin margins in a handful of swing states — and how much ground Democrats gained in the 2018 midterm election — there’s a real chance that congressional Republicans are hitching their wagon to a polarizing president who will cost them seats in the House and the Senate during a doomed reelection campaign.
Impeachment Costs Are a Fraction of Federal Revenues
At the end of the day, whether you believe the impeachment process has been a constitutional necessity or a partisan witch hunt, you can rest easy knowing that a large portion of your tax dollars isn’t going to pay for it. While the daily bill for compensating House members and their staffers adds up, it’s still an extremely small portion of the overall federal budget.
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About the Author
Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor.