My Opinion

The 28th Amendment – get your facts straight

Robert R. Livingston

Image via Wikipedia

Cyberspace is at it again this time circulating an e-mail calling for rapid passage of a 28th amendment for term limits and to cut the benefits for members of Congress.  

As you may know, I am a fan of term limits, perhaps not those as outlined below, but serving in Congress was not and should not be a career for anyone.  Having said that, let’s take a look at some of the nonsense contained in this e-mail.

Contrary to popular opinion, members of Congress do contribute to Social Security and have since 1984 (and before that while they did not contribute, they also did not collect Social Security benefits).  Members of Congress do not have their own health benefits program, they participate in the federal employees health benefits program just like any other federal employee.  That plan is quite similar to most large employer plans and requires substantial premiums to be paid by participants.  [by the way, exactly what health care system do the American people participate in – see # 6 below]. In addition, they are not exempt from provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Members of Congress do participate in the federal pension system and contribute into the system and are vested in the benefit after five years of service.  By law the pension cannot exceed 80% of pay (that would require a substantial period of service which becomes a non issue if there are term limits).  Here are some facts about actual Congressional pensions from about.com

According to the Congressional Research Service, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of Oct. 1, 2006. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.

Perhaps we should take all the money in pension trust funds in every company in America and put that into Social Security as suggested for members of Congress.

As far as pay goes, in 2000 the pay for a member of Congress was $141,300, in 2011 it is $174,000 which is an average annual increase of 2.09%; less than what is called for in the e-mail and far less than many union contracts around the U.S. including state employee contracts.

But most important of all is the question, who do we want to represent us in Congress?  Do we want only wealthy people who can afford to give up careers or cease running a business or do we want Congress open to average Americans who can act independently and honestly?  Aside from the money it takes to get elected, think about the reality of leaving your job (and all its benefits) and either selling your home and moving to the Washington, DC area while uprooting your family, or leaving your family behind and buying or renting a second home and commuting to see your family.  Could you afford to do all that and more? Would you do it if you knew you may have to change it all in two years?

Congress is accused of not being in session a sufficient amount of time, in essence not putting in a full days work.  What nonsense.  Do you think a person can do that job and not work every day of the year whether in Washington or not?  And if your Congressmen is not doing his or her job, is flying around the world on non productive junkets…you fire them! It’s called voting them out of office.  Don’t blame Congress for getting away with not doing it’s job, it’s our fault.

If we want our representatives from a wide-ranging slice of America and we want other than career politicians, we must provide a total compensation package that does not provide incentive for people to seek office, but neither deters them from devoting a few years of their lives to public service.  Campaigns of the likes of this e-mail are not helpful and those who do not take the time to think before hitting the “forward” button should be ashamed.

 Below is the text of the e-mail:

Subject: Starting the 28th Amendment

The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified!  Why?  Simple!  The people demanded it.  That was in 1971 … before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc. 

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land … all because of public pressure. I’m asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise. In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message.  This is one idea that really should be passed around.  

Congressional Reform Act of 2011 

1. Term Limits.  12 years only, one of the possible options below..

A. Two Six-year Senate terms

B. Six Two-year House terms

C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms  

2.  No Tenure / No Pension.  A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.. 

3.  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.  

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.  

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.  Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.  

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.  

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.  

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 10-1-11  

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. 

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message.  Maybe it is time.

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