Newly elected Congressional members standing on the steps of a government building.
Newly elected Congressional members standing on the steps of a government building.

When elected to Congress, politicians become members of a small group that wields a lot of power. The Constitution, along with several federal regulations, create special privileges for senators and House members to enjoy. Many of these privileges provide a financial benefit and, in most cases, the members themselves are the only people authorized to take them away.

Franking Privileges

For more than 200 years, members of Congress have sent mass mailings to their constituents without paying postage. The communications go before the Franking Commission first and, if approved, the federal government reimburses the Postal Service for the expense of mailing them. Though the purpose of the privilege is to keep citizens informed, it gives incumbent Congress members a big advantage during elections with an essentially free campaign tool. Even though they are not allowed to include specific campaign information, the mailings can still highlight the accomplishments of the Congress member. This gives a significant advantage over an opponent who must pay for postage.

Privilege From Arrest

Article I of the Constitution provides Congress members with immunity from civil arrest. This means that, while Congress is in session, a member cannot be arrested on a civil claim. Civil arrests are rare today, but they were common during colonial times. According to the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, the writers of the Constitution were concerned that citizens could use civil arrests to disrupt legislative sessions. In 1908, the Supreme Court found that the clause did not cover all civil actions against members. They can still be subpoenaed to testify in civil matters, even if Congress is in session.

Hospitalzation Privileges

Congress members are given the privilege to use all military hospitals for medical care and emergency dental procedures. When they use military hospitals within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, outpatient services are provided at no charge and inpatient services are billed for full reimbursement. If a member visits a military hospital outside of the District area, the services are billed for full reimbursement.

Salary Plus Some

In addition to their base pay, members of Congress receive yearly allowances to maintain an office space and compensate a full staff. House members are allotted more than $900,000 to pay up to 18 employees, along with another $250,000 to cover their office expenses. Several items are classified as office expense,. including travel, so members do not have to pay for transportation between home and Washington, D.C. For senators, the allotments are even higher, averaging more than $3 million per year. Along with these perks, members are also given free office space in Washington, as well as their home state, with additional funds to purchase furniture.