Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

July 3, 2013

Telling lies about Congress

Based on the list of privileges Christopher S. O’Rourke claims (“People in Congress don’t deserve the royal treatment,” June 29) former members of Congress enjoy it is easy to see how the hatred for that institution he promotes in his letter continues to grow and intensify.

His calling members of Congress traitors, backstabbers and hypocrites is very much in line with the sentiments expressed by many people who believe Congress enjoys such privileges.

There’s one glaring problem in this campaign of resentment and hatred: It’s all a lie. No need to mince words here. The privileges Mr. O’Rourke resents so much simply do not exist.

Members of Congress do not get 100 percent tax-free retirement benefits. Members are enrolled in the same federal retirement system as all other federal employees (FERS). They must become vested like everyone else, and their final annuity is based on their years of service.

Former members do not get free medical and dental at all military medical facilities throughout the country. While in office, members do get free outpatient treatment at Washington, D.C., military medical facilities, but that benefit ends upon the end of their service. Members of Congress, former or otherwise, do not get unlimited use of base exchanges and commissaries, and they do not get priority seating on military space available flights.

The tactic is relatively old and simple — claim Congress gets a bunch of privileges “regular” folks don’t get and let the resentment ensue. But there is a more recent twist aimed at intensifying that resentment — add a (rightfully) venerated group like the military and claim Congress receives benefits and privileges at their expense. It’s one thing to believe Congress gets a tax-free retirement when you or I don’t, but it is another, much larger thing to believe a congressman going on vacation can bump an enlisted guy from a Space-A flight who is trying to get home to visit his dying mother.

The results of buying into and spreading such lies may seem minimal for people like Mr. O’Rourke, who are far removed from where those results are felt, but for people like me, who work for Congress, the results are felt daily. We have an informal policy to either remove or hide our I.D. badges whenever we leave campus to help reduce the number of confrontations that are quickly becoming a regular occurrence.

I’ve been shouted at, had fingers shoved in my face, and have been (once) spat upon, because the “people I work for” don’t pay into Social Security (they do), get free medical care for life (they don’t), receive retirement benefits after their first term (they don’t), etc, etc. Members of Congress certainly do not deserve to be treated like royalty. But they also do not deserve to have a campaign of lies spread about them.

Mr. O’Rourke does a disservice to Congress by spreading these lies, as well as to those who will read and believe those lies without question.

Michael Billard

Waldorf

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