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Why the Congressional Reform Act Will Never Pass

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U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol is pictured here after a snowfall.

Architect of the Capitol
Updated March 24, 2011

The Congressional Reform Act, to many critics, sounds good on paper. The purported legislation would place term limits on members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and strip lawmakers of their public pensions.

Also See: The 10 Wealthiest Members of Congress

If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it is.

The Congressional Reform Act is a work of fiction, a sort of angry taxpayer's manifesto that went viral on the Web and continues to be forwarded and forwarded again, with little regard for facts.

That's right. No member of Congress has introduced such a bill - and none would, given the widely circulated email's numerous half-truths and bogus claims.

So if you're wondering when the Congressional Reform Act will pass the House and Senate, here's a little tip: It won't.

Text of Congressional Reform Act Email

Here is one version of the Congressional Reform Act email:

Subject: Congressional Reform Act of 2011

The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971…before computers, before e- mail, before cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land…all because of public pressure.

I'm asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message.

This is one idea that really should be passed around.

Congressional Reform Act of 2011

  1. Term Limits. 12 years only, one of the possible options below.
    A. Two Six-year Senate terms
    B. Six Two-year House terms
    C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms
  2. No Tenure / No Pension.
    A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
  3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.
    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.
  4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
  5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
  6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
  7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
  8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Maybe it is time.

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!! If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete

You are one of my 20+. Please keep it going.

Mistakes in Congressional Reform Act Email

There are numerous errors in the Congressional Reform Act email.

Let's start with the most obvious one - the incorrect assumption that members of Congress don't pay into the Social Security system. They are required to pay social security payroll taxes under federal law.

Also see: Salaries and Benefits of U.S. Congress Members

That wasn't always the case, though. Before 1984 members of Congress did not pay into Social Security. But they also were not eligible to claim Social Security benefits. At the time they participated in what was called the Civil Service Retirement System.

The 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act all members of Congress to participate in Social Security as of Jan. 1, 1984, regardless of when they first entered Congress.

Other Errors in Congressional Reform Act Email

As far as pay raises, cost-of-living-adjustments tied to inflation - such as the Congressional Reform Act email suggests - take effect annually unless Congress votes to not accept it. Members of Congress do not vote themselves pay raises, as the email suggests.

Also see: Even in Recession, Congress Pay Grew

There are other problems with the Congressional Reform Act email, including the claim that all Americans buy their own retirement plans. Studies show that most full-time workers actually participate in an employee-sponsored retirement plan. Members of Congress get retirement benefits under the same plans available to other federal employees.

Meantime, members of Congress already are subject to the same laws the rest of us are, despite claims to the contrary by the Congressional Reform Act email.

But let's not quibble over details. The point is: The Congressional Reform Act isn't a real piece of legislation. Even if it were, what are the chances members of Congress would vote to eliminate perks and jeopardize their own job security?

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