David Fertig on the 29th Amendment

I have gotten several emails, even from people whom I usually think are well informed and progressive about the idiotic “29th Amendment.” Here is the other side from a good friend:

Subject: 29th amendment? No, just some helpful FACTS…

Okay, we’ve all gotten emails with popular ignorant falsehoods re: congressional benefits, such as retirement pay, insurance, and legal immunity, AND the lobbyists’ favorite wet-dream : term limits. If you’re half as sick of ’em as I am – or if you’ve believed them! – you may find this useful.

Because I care about you and your considerations of public policy, I here provide a set of easy links and information that you may peruse and use if you wish to learn, maybe also debunk that harmful tripe when it comes to your attention (*more on these below):

http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30631.pdf
http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/a/congresspay.htm
http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/government/a/proposed_28th_amendment.htm

As for term limits, if you haven’t awoken and seen the term limits’ pushing a transition of political power from legislators to corporate lobbyists, you haven’t been looking.
See this: http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=134247

* Here’s more info:

Congressional retirement and Social Security
It’s false that members of Congress can retire after only one term with full pay, and false that they don’t pay into Social Security. Members elected after 1983 participate in the Federal Employees Retirement System. Members elected before 1983 participate in the older Civil Service Retirement Program. In both cases, they contribute to the plans at a slightly higher rate than ordinary federal employees. How much members of Congress receive upon retirement depends on their age, length of government service, and the configuration of their plan. All members of Congress pay into Social Security.

Immunity from prosecution for sexual harassment
Once upon a time, members of Congress were exempt from many of the employment and civil rights regulations under which private businesses operate, but no longer, thanks to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. Section 201 includes prohibitions against discrimination baded on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, as well as sexual and other harassment in the workplace.

Congressional health care coverage
It’s false that Congress has exempted itself from the provisions of the various health care reform bills introduced in the House and Senate in 2009. According to an analysis by FactCheck.org: “Members of Congress are subject to the legislation’s mandate to have insurance, and the plans available to them must meet the same minimum benefit standards that other insurance plans will have to meet.”

As for abrogating all extant contractual obligations to current and former members of congress, it’s so absurd it’s almost funny, a poison pill, really, that would doom any such legislation, as it’s simply illegal and unconstitutional, as an ex post facto law.
Term limits have proven deeply damaging, depositing Capitol Hill’s (and state capitols’ as well) institutional memory into the greedy laps of lobbyists, whose clients become disproportionately powerful as a result.

And considering the fact we each have control over term limits in our power to vote, term limits are undemocratic. SO is private funding of campaigns, and that’s an issue of more import (and vastly more $$ and political impact) than the salaries and pensions of politicians.

As for abrogating all extant contractual obligations to current and former members of congress, it’s so absurd it’s almost funny, a poison pill, really, that would doom any such legislation, as it’s simply illegal and unconstitutional, as an ex post facto law.

-Dave Fertig

From http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30631.pdf:
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.

From http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/a/congresspay.htm:
Members of Congress receive retirement and health benefits under the same plans available to other federal employees. They become vested after five years of full participation.

And see this, from http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=134247 :
Under term limits, less-experienced legislators cede more power and influence to the governor and lobbyists, according to the study. For instance, four in-depth case studies used for the report found that legislators made many fewer adjustments to governors’ budgets after term limits took effect.

A 2002 survey of 3,500 legislators by the same coalition of groups came to a similar conclusion.

Because they do not have as much time to learn the nuances of policy or political maneuvering, term-limited legislators — and especially committee chairmen — have to rely on the policy expertise of lobbyists and the institutional knowledge of staff, according to the study.

“Lobbyists know that their interactions with a legislator will end at a particular point in time. In some cases this has led to unethical behavior by lobbyists who may not be as careful about guarding their credibility as in the past,” the report stated.

Term limits also increase the partisanship of the lawmakers themselves because they have less time to accomplish their policy goals or build relationships with colleagues, the study said.

“Members are less collegial and less likely to bond with their peers, particularly those from across the aisle. The consequences of this are more than a simple change in the social climate — the decline in civility has reduced legislators’ willingness and ability to compromise and engage in consensus-building,” the report said.
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