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Constitutional FAQ Answer #162

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Q162. "I was wondering if there is anywhere in the Constitution that says Congress cannot pass laws that don't pertain to themselves. If this is some place else please let me know where to find it. I have read the Constitution and cannot find it."

A. There is no such provision in the Constitution. The Congress is allowed to pass legislation that pertains only to itself or which pertains to all but the Congress. A classic example is that Congress originally exempted itself from Social Security taxes, meaning that members of Congress did not have to pay into the Social Security Trust Fund. As you might imagine, exceptions like this have a tendency to run the public the wrong way.

Though Congress can still do this, it rarely does. In fact, in the 1990's, there was a concerted effort to root out all such exceptions. The Social Security exemption was removed in 1984 (the Congress exempted itself because its members paid into a separate pension plan; some government employees are still covered by this plan and still do not pay into the Trust Fund). The Congressional Accountability Act of 1994, amended in 1998, removed many exemptions to laws that Congress had given itself before, including age discrimination laws, sexual harassment laws, and occupational safety laws.

Regardless of all this, there is a cyclical push to amend the Constitution to disallow this sort of exemption permanently. As far as amendments go, this one is relatively benign, and I would have no objections to it. I just wonder how necessary it is. Below is an example of such a proposed amendment:

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.


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