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Wants vs. needs on Capitol Hill

How much will the House GOP's anti-Obama lawsuit cost American taxpayers? In budgetary terms, is this a "want" or a "need"?
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.
The Obama administration recently scrapped plans for a White House bowling alley renovation project, but that didn't stop House Republicans this week from voting to prohibit funding for the project that had already been canceled. (As Steve Stockman helped remind us the other day, GOP lawmakers are comfortable routinely solving imaginary problems.)
Explaining the move, Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), who spearheaded opposition to the White House bowling alley, said the project constitutes a "want," not a "need."
Fine. But if we're going to talk about what politicians "want" versus what they "need," perhaps it's time for a conversation about just how much the House Republicans' anti-Obama lawsuit is going to cost.

Democrats on the House Rules Committee said that voters had a right to know at least a projection of how many taxpayer dollars would be spent on a lawsuit they dubbed a "political stunt." "The American people have endured enough waste from this House Majority and we are demanding an estimate so that Members of Congress and the American public will know the true cost of the House's petty partisan lawsuit against the president," Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the top Democrat at House Rules Committee, said on Thursday.

In a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Democrats conceded that it'd be difficult to know in advance exactly how much the litigation will cost, "but they expressed concern that the draft resolution for the litigation placed no limit on how much could be spent, and that the costs of paying for outside lawyers would be covered with transfers from other House accounts."
Slaughter argued, "Responsible members of this body have an obligation to ensure taxpayer money is not turned into a slush fund for high-priced outside lawyers with connections to Republican lawmakers."
It's hardly an outrageous concern.
After all, House Republicans recently announced plans to spend several million dollars in taxpayer money on an eighth Benghazi committee, going over questions we already know the answers to. And that was before the announced lawsuit.
It's tough enough to defend the litigation. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) intends to sue the president because Obama shifted a deadline for an obscure Affordable Care Act provision, creating an awkward dynamic: Boehner wants a court to require the Obama administration to immediately implement a policy the Speaker does not actually want to see implemented.
But for Democrats, there's a certain political potency to focusing on costs. It's one thing for congressional Republicans to avoid their governing responsibilities; it's something else to invest our money in a stunt lawsuit while avoiding their governing responsibilities.
President Obama was only too pleased to emphasize the point at an event in Austin last week. "Maybe there's some principle out there that I haven't discerned, that I haven't figure out. You hear some of them, 'Sue him; impeach him.' Really? For what? You're going to sue me for doing my job? ... I mean, think about that. You're going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job while you don't do your job." Moments later, he again referenced the suit that "wastes taxpayers' money."
One can almost feel the 2014 ads taking shape.