Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Stupid Files: Mini-Snopes edition

I've seen that meme called the 28th Amendment or Congressional Reform Act of twice today. With all the feelgood shouts of "stop their pay" and the GOP pushed lie that Congress has somehow exempted itself from Obamacare, we're probably going to be seeing a lot more of it in the coming days. I've written about it before, but it's time to refisk it. 

There are several forms of it floating around. The first one I saw included term limits ("stop me before I vote again!"). Another version says Warren Buffett himself started the chain letter. That lets you know how honest the propagators of these things are. The original was some person's honest rant which they sent to their friends who sent it to their friends and so on. But at some point, someone thought it would be more effective if they added an out-and-out lie to the beginning. This sort of thing appeals to the inner populist in us all. It's an emotional appeal not a rational one. It counts on the too easy impulse to shout "Yeah!" and press "Send to All."

And so to begin. Warren Buffett does not send chain letters. The various versions are presented as a list with different numbering and paragraph breaks, but a core content. The list is made up of a mish-mash of misconceptions, outdated information, and just plain weirdness.

1. No Tenure / No Pension.

"No tenure" What does that mean? Congress doesn't have tenure. We can vote them out at any time, but we need to take responsibility for our own votes and do it if we don't like what they are doing. Democracy belongs to those who show up. Their pension is the same one that all government employees have.

2. A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they're out of office.

This is that unkillable rumor that Congress keeps collecting their pay for life. Think about this for a moment. What the rumor claims is that if Sarah Palin were to elected to Congress, she could serve one term, quit, and still collect 172K a year. That's not how it works. Congressional pay ends when the job ends, just like at any job.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.

Members of Congress do pay into Social Security. They have since 1984.

4. 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. It may not be used for any other purpose.

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

Congress participates in the same retirement program that other federal employees do. It's based on a formula of years served and pay grade. There is no special fund.

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

According to the 27th Amendment, Congress cannot vote itself a raise. What it can do is vote the next congress a raise. If we don't like it, we have the responsibility to let them know our disapproval, either by voting them out or by deluging them with letters, petitions, and phone calls. Since the 27th Amendment was pased, Congress has voted raises roughly once evry four years.

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

Because of that rumor about Congress exempting itself from Obamacare, this one is sure to get recycled a lot. The health care system that the American people participate in is one where some people get Medicare, some have veteran's benefits, some use Medicaid, some buy their own, and some get insurance through their employer. The Federal government provides insurance for its employees, including Congress. There is no special policy for them. They have the same choices as the rest of the civil service. Obamacare requires people to have insurance. Congress has insurance. Therefore, Congress is participation in Obamacare. It's that simple.

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

Once again, because of that exemption thing, this one is getting a lot of traction. Some versions of this list say they are specifically immune to sexual harrassment laws. They are not. Do you think that Congress could pass a bill saying rape or murder is a crime unless one of us does it? Of course not. If they tried they would be laughed out of the Supreme Court. There are a tiny number of laws under which they are treated differently. One of them is specifically written into the Constitution. Article I, Section 6. "They 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." Even then, as soon as the session is over, they can be arrested.

9. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 12/31/13. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.

This line is in every version of this that I have seen. Something very specific was bothering the original author   but I have no idea what it was. Contracts are a normal part of adult life. Does this mean that members of Congress can't buy or sell a house or a car or get married? Those are all contracts.

I hate these things because I hate seeing people taken advantage of. If you see any variation of this nonsense, point the person who sent it to you back to me or to the Snopes article. If all of us did this, we could raise the avaerage IQ of the internet by at least two points. 98% of you won't and you are bad, bad people.


Paul said...

A tweak to point 6 - I read recently that, largely because of gerrymandering, Congress has a 90% 'retention' rate. So while they can't vote themselves a pay raise, they can vote 'future themselves' a raise with 90% certainty.

Having said that I object to the sentiment expressed just as much as you do.

Anonymous said...

I think #9 is probably referencing the idea that special interests are influencing congressional members. If they're smart, however, congresswomen/men don't sign contracts for special benefits given to them by lobbyists.