Congressional Reform Act of (fill in the year of your choice here)

The same email, titled either “The (proposed) Congressional Reform Act of 20xx” or “This Is a Good Start,” has been going around since at least 2011 and I’m so tired of responding to it that I’m posting this on my blog so I can just link to it every time I receive the same email, which will doubtless live on for years, maybe decades.  Here is the gist of it:

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

The email is mostly nonsense and in some cases is actually right wing propaganda. Congress has a defined benefit pension plan that is similar to other such plans in the public and private sectors.  It’s the same plan that all federal employees get and similar to that of most state and local workers. It is based on the number of years of service and the average of their three highest earning years.  If they only serve two years, their pension is about 4% of their two years salary or about $3480 per year.  They can begin collecting at age 50.  By law, their pension cannot exceed 80% of their salary at time of retirement, regardless of how many years they serve.

There’s nothing wrong with getting a defined benefit pension.  Rather than bitching because policemen, firemen and teachers get such pensions, EVERYONE should be pressing their employers to do provide a similar retirement security benefit.  They can be perfectly sound and economically feasible if properly managed.  One of the greatest travesties ever foisted upon working people by corporate America was the replacement of pensions with 401Ks.  Wall Street wreaked havoc on these in 2008 and Congress does the same every time they play their game of chicken with the debt ceiling.

Congress has participated in SS just like everyone else sine 1984.  It’s a right wing myth that they don’t.

Congress can’t “vote themselves a pay raise.”  They have to vote NOT to take it.  Yes, this is a crock.  However, they have voted not to take it every year since 2008.  They have voted not to accept raises in seven of the last twenty-two years.  And it’s not some arbitrary number they make up.  It’s indexed to the Employment Cost Index, which is calculated based on private sector salaries.  The last couple of increases have been 2.7% and 2.2%.

Just what is “the same health care system as the American people?”  Hey, I got mine, you can just go to hell?  Congress has the exact same health care benefit as all federal employees.  No more, no less.  Yes, it’s a travesty that 46 million people still have no insurance, and Congress SHOULD fix that, but their health insurance is essentially no different than what I got as an employee of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

And no, Congress did NOT exempt themselves from the Affordable Care ACT (aka ACA or Obamacare).  In fact, it SPECIFICALLY REQUIRED that they give up the insurance that all federal employees have and purchase instead insurance from the same exchanges that are provided by the ACA.  However, portions of whatever plan they opt to purchase are partially paid for by the government, just like those of all other federal employees and, in fact, like most private sector employees who get insurance through their employers.

I know of no law that isn’t technically applicable to Congress AND everyone else, other than they don’t have to pay postage for official business (Franking privilege).  Since almost everything is electronic now, who really gives a damn about that?  Any other laws that they manage to skirt are directly attributable to their being in positions of wealth and power, no different than, say, Wall Street Bankers or corporate CEOs.  Yes, all of those should be subject to the same legal scrutiny as the average schmo, but that’s a deficiency of our society at large, not just Congress.  The wealthy and powerful just get a better shake.  It’s something we need to correct, but it’s not exclusive to Congress.

Yes, Congress is really @#$%ed up.  Yes, the scheme for (almost) automatic pay raises is a sham.  But this email is a bunch of ill-informed, mostly right-wing hogwash  that will do nothing to improve governance.  You want to fix government?  Get corporate, lobbyist and – and yes, union – money out of politics.  Limited individual contributions only, and maybe term limits, as well.  Best fix?  Publicly funded elections. But I suggest you not hold your breath on that one.

You can read about most of this yourself here:  LINK1   LINK2  LINK3  LINK4