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The proposed 28th amendment

A couple of readers have flagged this e-mail which is, as the kids say, going viral:


For too long we have been complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens have no idea that members of Congress can retire with full pay after only one term, that they don't pay into Social Security and that they have specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment). "Ordinary" citizens must live under all those laws. The latest travesty is that Congress will exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform that is being all of its forms. Somehow, that doesn't seem quite right. We do not have an elite class that is above the law. I truly don't care if they are Democrats, Republicans, Independents or whatever. The self-serving must stop.

I don't know about the harassment stuff, but the health care "travesty" is just dead wrong. Congress specifically added a provision to the bill stating that they, and their staffs, will only be able to receive coverage through this legislation. It's Section 1312 of the bill, and you can read it here. The key bit says that "the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are (I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act)."

By Ezra Klein  |  March 12, 2010; 9:01 AM ET
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I'd rather see an amendment either abolishing the Senate or forcing it to use majority votes for all things other than those supermajority requirements expressly stated in the Constitution.

Posted by: redwards95 | March 12, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Greybeard "get off my lawn" Klein says "as the kids say..." ROTFLMAO! They should pass a law that says that congresscritters should have to purchase their health care on the individual market until comprehensive HCR passes instead of benefiting the federal govt risk pool.

Posted by: srw3 | March 12, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Congressmen should not be "exempted" from other laws either.

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 12, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Don't worry, Ezra. As you get older and learn a little more about politicians, you'll see how they find ways around any rule that limits their self-assumed "privileges."

Posted by: jkilmer | March 12, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Sigh. These myths have been around for years. Members of Congress do, in fact, pay Social Security taxes. They cannot 'retire with full pay after one term' - they participate in the Thrift Savings Plan like every other government employee. And one of the cornerstones of the Contract with America was that Congress is indeed subject to the same laws as everyone else. The author of this 'viral e-mail' should know that if you wear a tin-foil hat the super-secret spy rays are blocked.

Posted by: Bethesdangit | March 12, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure the part exempting Congress is in the bill somewhere. Just look near the section outlining the death panels...

The health care debate has really thrown into sharp relief a possibly-fatal flaw at the heart of Enlightenment constitutional government: How do you reason with, or even argue with, people who knowingly disconnect themselves from objective reality? How do you persuade someone, when they declare themselves immune to fact?

Posted by: gilroy0 | March 12, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

The 26th Amendment, giving 18-yr olds the right to vote, was ratified in 1971. Did somebody slip another one in there while I wasn't looking? If my math is right, the next amendment should be 27. Not too bright on so many levels.

Posted by: skitso | March 12, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

in somewhat defense of the lunatics didn't the amendment forcing members of congress into the exchanges recently get passed and I'm sure this "viral" info has been out there a while.

BTW, agree they're still lunatics but again what's so wrong about making Congress liable for everything the rest of us are??

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 12, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

For stuff like this, is your friend.

No, members of Congress can't retire after one term with full pay; they are subject to harassment laws, and they aren't exempt from Social Security

Posted by: vorkosigan1 | March 12, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Did Megan McArdle write that?

Posted by: PorkBelly | March 12, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Gilroy & Beth, you've both hit the nail on the head: some people just don't care about the facts. I was a Hill staffer for many years, dealing with (among other issues) communications. Year after year after year, I had to deal with irate constituents who had just heard, from unimpeachable sources, that the FCC was going to try to ban religious broadcasting. It was The Rumor That Would Not Die. And no matter how many times I told them that there was absolutely no substance to the rumor THEY STILL KEPT COMPLAINING. To paraphrase (somewhat) Lincoln: some people CAN be fooled all the time, because they are fools.

Posted by: bigfish2 | March 12, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse


Yes they did. The 27th amendment was ratified in 1992. It prevents congressional pay raises from going into effect until the next Congress.

Posted by: J-NC | March 12, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse


The 27th amendment states that all congressional raises cannot be enacted until the next seating of congress. "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." It was originally proposed in the 1780's, but didn't receive the necessary ratification until 1992, when it was approved by the Alabama legislature.

Oh, and if JakeD is still lurking, I'd like to know, specifically, what laws members of Congress are "exempted" from?

Posted by: dbrue | March 12, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Isn't Congress exempt from federal OSHA standards and FOIA? I know the don't pay for parking tickets or postage like other D.C. residents.

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 12, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Wow. If members of congress are going to be getting their health care through this plan, Dems should be trumpeting that as loud as they can.

What a useful rhetorical tool that they're just leaving on the ground.

Posted by: TWAndrews | March 12, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Jake, you are correct about the first two. I did find this link: , which lays out what laws Congress is exempt from (or at least the laws Congress was exempt from when the report was published).

As far as the parking tickets and postage, I hope you're using hyperbole...

Posted by: dbrue | March 12, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

You've never heard of Franking Privilege?

Posted by: JakeD2 | March 12, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Dude, stop harshing the narrative.
To the folks who do not want HCR to pass in any form, reality is the enemy.

Posted by: vintagejulie | March 12, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

J-NC and dbrue, thanks. I guess I just don't pay that much attention to what happens in Alabama.

Posted by: skitso | March 12, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Members of Congress do not have to fear "prosecution for sexual harassment." Neither does anyone else. Sexual harassment is a tort not a crime. It is not prosecuted. It is considered a form of gender discrimination. People who claim they have been sexually harassed can sue under the 64 civil rights act.

Aside from that error, the viral e-mail makes another error. Yes from 1965 through 1995, members of congress were allowed to discriminate. They are no longer allowed to discriminate. This is due to Newt Gingrich's one good deed.

Posted by: rjw88 | March 12, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

"Don't worry, Ezra. As you get older and learn a little more about politicians, you'll see how they find ways around any rule that limits their self-assumed "privileges.""

Yeah, Congress has a profoundly subsidized health clinic right there in the Capitol building.

So if Congress was required to buy their ordinary health insurance in a general exchange, that would say nothing about the Capitol clinic. Ergo, a thrifty Congressperson (there must be a few) could simply purchase a high-deductible plan on the exchange (or the FEHBP), and use the clinic routinely for routine visits (with no deductible!), etc.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that Congress should be fully subject to the rules and constraints of the average household.

Further, why not let Congress be like CEOs who must now take stock (or options) they cannot sell for years.

I'd like to see some kind of analogous long-term performance pay for Congress.

Posted by: HalHorvath | March 12, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Section 1312 starts out with "Notwithstanding any other provision of law..."

Other provisions or laws would include:

Members of congress are eligible to receive care at military hospitals.

Additionally they are are eligible to receive limited medical services from the Office of the Attending Physician of the U.S. Capitol.

Additionally , they are eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Which, according to Wiki, had 250 available plans in 2010.(I don't know how many of those that congress is eligible for, but my company only has two, both from the same provider.)

Finally, they can vote themselves any provision or law as they see fit just as they vote themselves pay increases as they see fit at any time...

Posted by: ejfudd | March 12, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

As usual, stuff like this that you get in email chain letters is 99% likely to be false.

"This piece about Congressional pensions and Social Security has been circulating in various forms since at least April 2000. Virtually all of it is outdated, inaccurate, or misleading."

"A member of Congress can't receive more than 80 percent of his or her final salary upon retirement, and the average is much less."

Typically US Representatives aren't eligible for *any* pension unless they serve for at least three terms.

Posted by: billkarwin | March 12, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

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