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Congress Dodges Its Reform

"No fine print," said the GOP's 1994 Contract With America, seeking to "restore the bonds of trust" in an "era of official evasion and posturing." But Congress's first big legislative achievement under the Contract - the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) - has itself lost accountability. The act was supposed to apply to Congress the same laws that private employers must obey and thus force lawmakers to share the strictures they impose on America's private sector. Now critics and congressional staffers complain that unpublicized loopholes permit Congress to avoid this particular accountability.

"The CAA has done almost nothing to ensure that members of Congress live under the laws they impose, especially labor laws," says an article in The New Republic. "While many staffers say they work just as many hours as in the past, few report receiving any overtime pay. No congressman has been hauled into court. And it is still illegal for staffers to unionize."

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A survey finds that at least 11 lawmakers have sidestepped the overtime law by designating their whole staffs, including receptionists, as supervisory and thus exempt from wage-and-hours laws.

If survivors of the Contract With America want to get serious about those "bonds of trust" with the people, they might ensure that their accountability act is being obeyed and not relegated to the old "official posturing."

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