|Washington is a city full of myths.
For example, each day tourists ask National Park Service rangers whether it's true that the image of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was carved into the back of the awe-inspiring statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting inside the Lincoln Memorial. There is no image of Lee -- or anyone else -- carved into the memorial honoring our nation's 16th president.
So, it's no suprise that ocassionally Congress and its members are the subject of rumors and myths. Here, we clear up some of the common myths Jim hears from constituents.
Myth: Members of Congress are exempt from the laws they pass
Reality: Members of Congress are already subject to all of the same laws of our country. This exception is Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution, which states:
“They [Congress] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
This section of the Constitution exists to protect the separation of powers and ensure that the executive branch does not abuse its own authority to influence votes in Congress. Please note that this does not exempt Members of Congress from prosecution for commission of a crime. Furthermore, it does not apply when Congress is not in session. Otherwise, the laws of our nation and state and local governments are equally applicable to Members of Congress as all other Americans.
Myth: The new health care law will not apply to Members of Congress
Reality: The law actually states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, after the effective date of this subtitle, 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 created under this Act or offered through an Exchange established under the Act."
Therefore, the only insurance the federal government will make available to Members of Congress and their personal office staff will be through a plan created by the law or on the Exchange.
However, there has been some controversy surrounding this provision because Congressional staff who work for Committees or Leadership (such as for Speaker Nancy Pelosi) are exempt, as are White House staffers.
Myth: Members of Congress do not pay Social Security taxes
Reality: Prior to 1984, neither federal civil service workers nor Members of Congress paid taxes to Social Security, nor were they eligible for Social Security benefits.
Members of Congress and other federal employees were instead covered by a separate pension plan called the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). However, the 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act (P.L. 98-21) required federal employees first hired after 1983 to participate in Social Security.
These amendments also required all Members of Congress to participate in Social Security as of January 1, 1984, regardless of when they first entered Congress. Thus, since then, all Members of Congress have paid, and continue to pay, Social Security taxes.
Myth: Members of Congress can retire and receive their full salary after serving just a single, two-year term
Reality: This information is simply untrue.
Under current congressional retirement plans, Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service.
The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
In 2007 (the latest data available), the average annual pension for a Member of Congress was $36,732 for serving an average of 16 years.
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