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The Rumored Perks of Congressional Service

ďDo congressional staffers have to pay back their student loans?

ďThe answers are: no, no, no and yes ó although some full-time congressional staffers participate in a student loan repayment program that helps pay back a portion of student loans. No more than $60,000 in the House and $40,000 in the Senate can be forgiven and only if the employee stays on the job for several years.Ē

On the assertion that Members of Congress are exempt from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act: also false. 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. They have a generous subsidy for their premiums, but no more generous (and compared to many businesses or professions less generous) than standard employer-provided subsidies throughout the country.

To most Americans, Members of Congress live pretty lush lives, including all those facilities like a posh dining room, a beauty salon and a spa in the Capitol (more exaggerations). They do make more money than most other Americans, especially during a time of high unemployment, and certainly donít live like paupers. The pensions are generous ó especially the cost of living adjustments. But for most lawmakers, the lifestyle is anything but luxurious, and the jobs are brutal, from the constant travel to the insane fundraising pressures.

It is not surprising that, in tough times, Americans would be inclined to believe the absolute worst about their elected officials ó especially when some of them cynically exploit votersí darker instincts by showboating through sleeping on cots or couches in their offices. But at least let the criticism be fair and based on facts instead of persistent urban legends. Any Member who wants to make copies of this column and distribute it at town meetings or other places when the email pseudo-facts are raised may feel free to do so.

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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