Mr. Orlin Olson
4946 Mt Highway 200
Thompson Falls, MT 59873-9542
Thank you for contacting me regarding the pay, benefits and operations of the U.S. Senate. I appreciate hearing from you.
The Internet and C-Span have helped make modern America one of the most transparent and accountable political eras in world history. However, these same tools of transparency allow for the proliferation of much misinformation regarding the salary, retirement benefits and health benefits afforded to Members of Congress.
Congressional staff and family members are not exempt from paying back student loans. Congressional staff have access to the Student Loan Repayment Program, which is available to most federal employees. You can find information about the Student Loan Repayment Program online at http://www.opm.gov/oca/PAY/StudentLoan.
Members of Congress are scheduled to receive pay adjustments annually based on the Employment Cost Index (ECI), a measure of changes in private sector salaries. However, Congress voted to forego a scheduled pay adjustment of 2.1% in the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act. Again, in 2010, Congress voted to forego another scheduled pay adjustment of 0.9% in 2011 by passage of H.R. 5146, a bill "To provide that Members of Congress shall not receive a cost-of-living adjustment in pay during Fiscal Year 2011."
In fact, the 27th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1992, prohibits Congress from passing any legislation that affects the compensation of Senators or Representatives until after a new election.
Senators, like all federal civil service employees, did not contribute to or receive Social Security benefits prior to 1984. Instead, federal service employees and congressional members contributed to a unique pension plan called the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Congress enacted changes to the Social Security Act in 1983 that moved federal employees and congressional members into the Social Security system. Since January 1, 1984, all members of Congress have been required to pay Social Security taxes, regardless of when they first entered Congress.
In addition to Social Security, congressional members and their staff may elect to participate in the Federal Employees Retirement Service (FERS), which operates like most employer-supported retirement plans. I encourage you to read a more detailed analysis of the retirement benefits provided to Members of Congress online at http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL30631_20081028.pdf.
Senators and Representatives currently have access to the same health insurance options as other federal employees such as postal workers and forest rangers through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). In 2014, the enacted health care reform law will move congressional members and their staff to coverage under state-run health insurance exchanges, which were created as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). By using the new health care law's primary means for providing quality, low-cost care, congressional members are demonstrating their confidence in the reform. A review of the current plans offered by the FEHBP can be found online at http://www.opm.gov/INSURE/HEALTH/INDEX.ASP.
In 1995, I cosponsored the Congressional Accountability Act. This legislation, which passed the Senate with almost unanimous support, created the Office of Compliance to ensure that Congress abides by the same laws as the American people. In some cases, Senators and elected officials do face unique laws, but these laws are intended to enforce the higher standard of ethics expected of our lawmakers. Some normal behavior in the private sector, such as gifts given in a business exchange, would clearly be unacceptable for our elected officials.
Finally, allow me to speak briefly on the issue of term limits. On May 22, 1995, the United States Supreme Court found that providing for limitations on congressional terms of office was unconstitutional, a violation of Article I of the U.S. Constitution.
As a member of the United States Senate, elected every six years by the people of Montana, I understand how important it is for Montanans to have the ability to elect its officials. A constitutional amendment in my opinion would infringe upon the fundamental rights of the people of Montana to determine who will represent them in Congress. Montanans in fact have term limits, and can in fact choose to enact them by voting at the polls every election.
I also am concerned that enacting federal term limits would weaken the legislative branch of government by creating larger numbers of inexperienced and lame duck Members of Congress. I believe it would shift power from elected legislators to lobbyists and bureaucrats, which, of course, makes government less accountable to the people.
Please contact me with any additional comments or questions. I also encourage you to visit my website at http://baucus.senate.gov for more information on issues at home in Montana and across the nation. Thanks again for keeping in touch.
It sounds ok, but of course, it's a politician's job to sound honest and optmistic. If it was possible, I think it would be great if we could also see the letter you wrote to him, so we could fully understand the points he was addressing.
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