A few days ago a friend with very similar political views sent me Facebook message asking for my support of the proposed 28th Amendment to the US Constitution which reads: “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the Citizens of the United States.”
Now that sounds good, doesn’t it? Heck, given the low opinion of our US Senators and Representatives which I share with the vast majority of Americans, it sounded great. When I read the rest of the message it sounded even better. This is the text of the message:
Please read 28th amendment. Please Read and forward. This will only take 1 minute to read! 28th Amendment, 35 States and Counting. It will take you less than a minute to read this. If you agree, please pass it on.
It’s an idea whose time has come to deal with this self-serving situation: OUR PRESENT SITUATION !
Children of Congress members do not have to pay back their college student loans. Staffers of Congress family members are also exempt from having to pay back student loans.
Members of Congress can retire at full pay after only one term.
Members of Congress have exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed, under which ordinary citizens must live. For example, they are exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment. And as the latest example, they have exempted themselves from Healthcare Reform, in all of its aspects.
We must not tolerate an elite class of such people, elected as public servants and then putting themselves above the law. I truly don’t care if they are Democrat, Republican, Independent, or whatever. The self-serving must stop.
Governors of 35 states have filed suit against the Federal Government for imposing unlawful burdens upon their states. It only takes 38 (of the 50) States to convene a Constitutional Convention. IF??? Each person that receives this will forward it on to 20 people, in three days most people in The United States of America will have the message.
You are one of my 20.
(I learned later that this message is a “copy and paste” of the original chain email which has been circulating for quite some time.)
Now, that’s a call to action for a good cause that ordinary citizens on both sides of the political isle can unite behind, right? So instead of just passing the message on twenty of my friends, I decided to write an article about the need for the 28th Amendment and publish it on my blog where hundreds, maybe thousands could read about the need to convene a Constitution Convention to get this amendment passed. (I figured that we darn sure couldn’t depend on those yahoos in Congress to push it through.) Besides it would be an easy article to write; with the information already provided in the message it would practically write itself.
However, I am kind of fussy about what I post on my blog site. I can’t afford to ruin my fledgling blog reputation by publishing material that just isn’t true so I try to fact check everything. That’s when I started running into trouble on this subject. Several fact check organizations which I have come to trust indicated that the examples of Congress carving out exemptions for themselves provided in the message were either outdated, misleading, or just plain lies.
For instance, the part of the message which states: Children of Congress members do not have to pay back their college student loans. Staffers of Congress family members are also exempt from having to pay back student loans, is misleading. FactCheck.org states, “The chain e-mail said that members of Congress, their families and staff members do not have to repay student loans. This is ridiculously false. We rate it Pants on Fire.” PolitiFact.com stated: “”There are no provisions under Title IV (federal student aid programs) that provide loan forgiveness for members of Congress or their families or staff (beyond what any other borrower would be eligible for).”
Apparently the confusion probably comes in because Congressional staffers, along with employees other agencies of the federal government, can participate in the student loan repayment program that helps them pay back a portion of their student loans if they stay long enough on the job. This program was adopted to enable the federal government to attract talented young people to government jobs when competing with the better salaries of corporate world. A similar program exists for loans taken out by government employees to finance their children’s education. By the way, there are also federal programs are available for non-government positions, for instance for doctors who agree to work in under served rural areas.
Then we have the statement: Members of Congress can retire at full pay after only one term which frankly is total BS. According to PolitiFact.org, “A report on “Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress, prepared in November by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, outlines how pension benefits are calculated. The key provision: No member of Congress is eligible for any pension unless he or she has served in Congress for at least five years. (Senators serve six-year terms; House members must seek reelection every two years.) To collect, a congressman or senator must be age 62, or be at least age 50 with 20 years of service, or be any age with 25 years of service.”
As with many retirement plans there is a complicated algorithm for calculating how much a former senator or representative will receive in retirement pay based on years of service, etc, but according to PolitiFact.org, “a three-term congressman (or one-term senator) who has now reached retirement age would be eligible for an annual pension of $17,588” which is a far cry from their annual salary of $172,443. Nor can a senator or representative ever retire at full pay. “By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80 percent of his or her final salary. Under the formula, it would take 67 years of service to hit that limit.” So the statement is totally untrue.
Okay, what about the final three statements: Members of Congress have exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed. They are exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment. They have exempted themselves from Healthcare Reform, in all of its aspects. Let’s take them one a time.
No, members of Congress have NOT exempted themselves from “many” of the laws they have passed, at least not lately. Quite the opposite; according to FactCheck.org in 1994 Congress passed the Congressional Accountability Act which removed congressional loopholes built into to eleven pieces of legislation previously passed by congress from the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
No, members of congress are NOT exempt from prosecution for sexual harassment. According to the FactCheck.org“Sexual harassment is specifically covered by Section 201 of the CAA” (The Congressional Accountability Act sited above). According to PolitiFact, the law initiated “the independent Office of Compliance which was set up to enforce the laws in Congress. The act specifically prohibits harassment based on sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age and disability.” Sounds like this one is in the “Pants on Fire” category.
And no, members of Congress have NOT exempted themselves from Healthcare Reform. PolitiFact.org use a statement by political scientist Norman Ornstein of American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and expert in Congressional affairs to debunk this claim: “Members of Congress are subject under the health care reform law to the same mandate that others are to purchase insurance, and their plans must have the same minimum standards of benefits that other insurance plans will have to meet. Members of Congress currently have not a gold-plated free plan but the same insurance options that most other federal employees have, and they do not have it provided for free.” Like many business organizations, the government pays for a portion of the true cost of their insurance premiums, but the subsidies they receive are on the whole no more generous than those received their business counterparts.
Well, that’s Obamacare, but what about the recently failed Republican health care bills; did the Congressional Republicans try to sneak in some extra benefits or exemptions for themselves? According to FactCheck.org, “The claim that members of Congress would be somehow ‘exempt’ from the now-stalled health care legislation is a more recent absurdity. It’s a twisted claim based on misrepresentations of the House and Senate bills, neither of which exempts lawmakers.”
So here is the bottom line – I am awarding the all of the combined claims used above to justify the passage to the 28th Amendment my “Biggest Lie of the Year Not Uttered by Trump or a Trumpsplainer” designation. On my personal lie category hierarchy this designation indicates a bigger lie than my “Pants on Fire” award. (There is one higher award, but I am sure you can identify its designation without my help.)
Now the 28th Amendment may still be a good idea, but if the person who originally initiated this email/message to support the idea had to use a bundle of lies to justify its adoption, it makes me very suspicious of the motives of that person. Based on what I have seen thus far, I am not going lift a finger to get the amendment adopted. If those are the best justifications which can be trotted out to support its adoption, we don’t need this unnecessary amendment cluttering up our constitution. However, what is really concerning is our propensity as citizens to accept such messages at face value.
Countless people have innocently passed on this message to their friends without a hint of concern. Heck, I believed the claims as well until I checked them out and I probably wouldn’t have fact checked them had I not decided to write an article about why the proposed 28th Amendment is a good idea. (Thank heavens I did do some checking; I could have really embarrassed myself.) For me this is a lesson learned wake up call, a cautionary tale which should encourage anyone who is reading this to be skeptical of unsubstantiated claims being bandied about the internet, even when source is assumed to be on “our side”. For instance there is petition on MoveOn.org requesting your signature in supporting the 28th Amendment sighting the very claims we debunked here as justification.
By the way, if you think that the adoption of another amendment to the Constitution is actually possible in the current political environment, why don’t we work to make the 28th Amendment to the Constitution one whose merits are not debatable, like removing dark corporate money from our political process?