10 Things Everyone Knows About Congress (Which Are Wrong)

My fellow Americans, I like you am annoyed with the 113th United States Congress. There is a reason that the percentage of Americans who approve of the job they're doing is in the single digits. The constant infighting, the endless threats of a government shutdown, and our own Ted Cruz reads a Dr. Suess book on the floor of the Senate. This is not good government.

Side note to Tea Party folks... if you want to pull the hours-long filibuster, please just read the John Galt speech from Atlas Shrugged. Seriously, it'll kill three hours and you'll look less ridiculous.

However, I sympathize with our representatives because I read the comment sections under news stories, and I have to tell you... most people don't have the faintest clue about what Congress actually does or does not do. They're as mad as an ant nest with a water hose stuck in it, and just about as sensible. There is plenty of reason to be angry, but the following ten items are not among them. Try and remember that before you climb astride your political high horse, masterpooper345.

See also: The Ten Weirdest Members of Congress

Congress is Exempt From Obamacare: "If Congress likes Obamacare so much why did they exempt themselves LOL?" They didn't. Every single regulation and rule that applies to the nation as a whole also applies to Congress. In fact, they're actually getting a worse deal because Democrats called a Republican bluff when the law was being debated that forced them out of their current health insurance onto the exchanges. So the fears that employers would cut their employees loose and make them use the exchanges? Yeah that actually happened to the people who wrote the law, though they have since sought a way to allow Congress to keep their current health insurance.

Speaking of...

Members of Congress Get Free Healthcare: "I think Congress should have to use the same system everyone else does LOL." They do. Congress has employer-provided health insurance just like millions of other federal employees, and it comes out of their paychecks just like it probably does yours. They've got a great plan, which you would expect when you're talking about the largest employer in America and the deals you can negotiate with that sort of clout, but it's not any freer than any other health insurance benefits that other Americans get from their jobs.

Members of Congress Don't Pay Social Security: It's amazing how long this myth has held on. At one point Congress didn't pay Social Security, true. They had their own deal, the Civil Service Retirement System which covered most civilian federal employees. The program was considered overly generous, and in 1984 Congress was required to contribute to the Social Security fund. It comes out of their paycheck at the same rate it comes out of yours.

Piece continues on next page.

Members of Congress Exempt Themselves From Their Own Laws: Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution exempts members of Congress from arrest during session, a clause that is meant to prevent presidents from having their opponents arrested while legislating. They're otherwise subject to the same rules as the rest of us. There was concern that Congress had set itself above the law in the '80s, but the Republican Revolution resulted in the Congressional Accountability Act in 1995 that more or less makes Congress adhere to all workplace regulations regarding things like sexual harassment that apply to private jobs.

Members of Congress Vote Themselves Pay Raises: It's a common misconception (I blame it on an episode of The Simpsons personally) that Congress gets to just increase their salary whenever they want via a vote. In 1989 Congress voted that their pay would get a Cost of Living Adjustment every year. This was an ethic reform that also prevented them from receiving payment for speeches. This is the only raise that Congress gets, and they have in fact waived this raise since 2010.

See also: The Ten Most Corrupt Tax Loopholes

Members of Congress Refuse to Cut Their Own Salaries to Help Fix the Deficit: Back in 2011 (We do this shutdown thing about as often as Lady Gaga releases albums now) Barbara Boxer tried to get a bill through Congress that would make sure she and her fellows weren't paid during a shutdown if it occurred. It died in the Republican-controlled House. The thing is, though, that such a bill is almost certainly unconstitutional.

The 27th Amendment states, "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened," meaning that you can't raise or cut a member of Congress's salary and have it take effect before the next election. It was intended to curb those pay raises we mentioned early.

Finally, even if Congress worked for free, it would be an almost completely meaningless contribution to the deficit. $93 million dollars sounds like a lot of money, until you realize that it's only about 0.06 percent of the current deficit.

Members of Congress Get Their Full Salary For Life: There is no doubt about it, Congress almost certainly has a better retirement deal than you do. However, the idea that they maintain their full salary, even after just one term of service, for the rest of their life is false. By law, a retired Congressperson's pension can never equal more than 80 percent of his salary, and the average is usually around $36,000 annually. Plus, they do have to pay into that system, 1.3 percent of their salary while elected if they want to receive that pension.

Congress Only Works 126 Days a Year: Every year the Congressional Calendar comes out, and every year the media loves to jump on how few days they're in session because it's a good angry story that the average reader likes. However, it's a little ridiculous to assume that when a Congressperson isn't in actual session that he or she isn't working. Some representatives take these constitutional work days a little more seriously than others, but in general a representative is working on the needs and wants of his districts and states back at his home office. In all, a member of Congress works between 59 to 70 hours a week, and even when they're "on vacation" they are likely to still be doing something Congress-y. Days spent in session just represent the culmination of all their other work.

Piece concludes on next page.

Congress Is A Bunch of Overpaid Fat Cats: What do we pay Congress for all that work? Not really that much. $174,000 is a lot of money to yours truly working two jobs to keep the lights on, but in the grand scheme of things it puts them at a fraction of pretty much any CEO in the country, especially when you subtract things like stock options that Congress doesn't get. If we take the high end of that linked studies estimate of their work week that means that they make just $41 an hour. Again, that sounds huge to us average folks, but it's only half of the minimum wage of a Major League Baseball Player... and last time I checked those guys were not being forced to decided if we're going to bomb Syria.

It should be noted, though, that most people who are elected to Congress are usually rich through other means. People like Joe Biden, whose only income was his salary, are pretty rare. Regardless, your tax dollars are not exactly funding the McDuck lifestyle.

See also: How to Annoy Your Fellow Republicans

Members of Congress and Their Staffs Don't Have to Pay Back Their Student Loans: Speaking as someone with about $60,000 worth of student loans, the idea that people in Congress might get a free pass from that burden irks me something awful. It's not true, though, and the fact that Barack Obama was still paying off his own loans nine years ago should show that pretty well. There is a program that offers some help paying back loans used to attract congressional staffers to the work, as well as some executive staffers, but there's a cap and isn't just a complete wiping away of what they owe. The program isn't open to actual elected officials at all.

Look, I'm not saying Congress is great. These last several years have sucked hose water and they're largely the ones controlling the spigot. However, if you're going to be mad about something, be mad about a real thing instead of a made up one. We'll get more done that way.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >