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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Lawmaker Loopholes?

Q: Is Congress exempt from “many” laws including one against sexual harassment?

A: No. The latest e-mail rant against Congress — proposing a “28th Amendment” to the Constitution — is full of false and outdated claims.


A chain e-mail (copy below) claims members of Congress can retire after one term with their same pay and, while serving, pay no Social Security and exempt themselves from some laws, e.g., sexual harassment and health care legislation. A 28th Amendment to the Constitution is proposed barring Congress from enacting laws applying to its members and not equally to the “citizens of the United States.”

Are the facts right?

Subject: An idea whose time has come

For too long we have been too complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens had no idea that Congressmembers could retire with the same pay after only one term, that they didn’t pay into Social Security, that they specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment) while ordinary citizens must live under those laws. The latest is to exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform that is being considered…in all of its’ forms.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem logical. We do not have an elite that is above the law. I truly don’t care if they are Democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever. The self-serving must stop. This is a good way to do that. It is an idea whose time has come.

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States “.

Each person contact a minimum of Twenty people on their Address list, in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

Then in three days, all people in The United States of America will have the Message. This is one proposal that really should be passed around.


That’s a lot of very old baloney packed into a few words.

It never has been true that members of Congress could retire with full pay after one term. That’s a false allegation that has been circulating for at least a decade. As we reported back in 2007, lawmakers can qualify for very good pensions, but nowhere near that good. A lawmaker might qualify for a pension of 80 percent of final salary, and only after many years of service.

An even older Internet myth is the claim that members of Congress don’t pay into Social Security. That was true once — but not for the past quarter-century. They have paid Social Security taxes since 1984, as we reported in a separate article, also in 2007.

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. We explained how that false notion got started on the Internet rumor mill in an article we posted on Jan. 20.

Finally, the claim that Congress is exempt from “many” of the laws it has passed is 15 years out of date. In the 1980s there were news stories prodding members of Congress for putting themselves “[a]bove their own laws,” as a 1988 Time magazine story put it. But following the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, which put Republicans in control of both House and Senate, Congress passed the Congressional Accountability Act (PL 104-1), which applies a dozen civil rights, labor and workplace safety regulations to the legislative branch. Here’s a list compiled by the independent, nonpartisan Office of Compliance, which was set up to enforce the laws in Congress:

Laws Applied to the Legislative Branch by the CAA

  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute
  • Veterans’ employment and reemployment rights at Chapter 43 of Title 38 of the U.S. Code
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989

In addition, the CAA was amended in 1998 to include certain provisions of the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998.

According to the Office of Compliance — and contrary to the claim in this e-mail — sexual harassment is specifically covered by Section 201 of the CAA.

The e-mail complains that Congress shouldn’t be an “elite that is above the law.” But that’s not the way the authors of the Constitution saw it. They worried that presidents might try to bully House or Senate members by threatening to arrest them on trumped-up charges. So to preserve the separation of executive and legislative powers, the founders gave elected lawmakers a certain degree of immunity.

U.S. 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.

There very well may be good reasons for ratifying an amendment to the Constitution as proposed in this message. We take no position on that. But as a matter of fact, just about all the claims this message makes in support of the idea are false.

-Brooks Jackson


Jackson, Brooks. “Does a United States senator receive his full pay upon retiring?” FactCheck.org. 26 Dec 2007.

Jackson, Brooks. “Do members of Congress pay Social Security taxes?” FactCheck.org. 17 Dec 2007.

Robertson, Lori. “Congress Exempt from Health Bill?” FactCheck.org. 20 Jan 2010.

Cramer, Jerome. “Above Their Own Laws.” Time. 23 May 1988.

Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. (PL 104-1) 2 U.S.C 1301 et seq., as amended.

Office of Compliance Media Fact Sheet.” Office of Compliance undated, accessed 29 Jan 2010.

Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 6.