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Posted at 06:02 PM ET, 06/13/2011

What happens when a member of Congress takes a leave of absence?


Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is questioned by the media near his home in Queens, N.Y., on Saturday. (By David Karp/Associated Press)
Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) announcement Saturday that he is seeking a leave of absence from his congressional duties rather than resigning his seat in the wake of a scandal involving his inappropriate communications with women online was met with dissatisfaction by party leaders, who responded with a series of coordinated statements calling on Weiner to step down.

But what are the consequences for Weiner if he does pursue a temporary leave from the House? Here are answers to some questions raised by the Weiner imbroglio.

Must a member submit a formal request for a leave of absence if they intend to be absent from the House?

No. A formal request for a leave is not required by House rules.

Who approves a leave of absence?

The full House votes to grant permission. Requests for leave are usually unanimously approved by the House at the end of the day’s legislative business.

How common is it for members to take a leave of absence?

House members routinely take leaves of absence, usually for a period of a day or several days. Among the reasons given by members who have recently taken leave are surgery, official business in their districts, a funeral, medical reasons and inclement weather.

There have been instances of members taking extended leaves of absence for medical reasons. (The most recent example is that of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who has not been present in the House since she was shot at a Tucson campaign event in January.) As a Democratic senator, Joe Biden took a seven-month leave of absence after suffering a brain aneurysm in February 1988. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) missed nine months of votes in late 2006 and 2007 after he suffered a brain hemorrhage. And in 2009, Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) took a month-long leave of absence to seek treatment for alcohol addiction.

Unexplained leaves of absence are not unprecedented, either. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) took a two-week break without explanation in February 2002, saying only that he was leaving for “personal reasons.”

Will Weiner still get paid if he takes a leave?

Yes. Weiner will still receive his congressional salary while he’s on leave, according to the Committee on House Administration. As of January 2009, the salary for a member of the House or Senate stands at $174,000 per year.

Additionally, the House rules for the 111th Congress state that “the statutes provide that deductions may be made from the salaries of Members who are absent without sufficient excuse (II, 1149, 1150); and although this law has been enforced (IV, 3011, footnote; VI, 30, 198), its general application is not practical under modern conditions.”

Will Weiner still receive his congressional health insurance? What happens to his pension?

Weiner’s health coverage and pension would not be affected by his taking a leave of absence.

Would Weiner’s health insurance cover the treatment that he is seeking?

Weiner issued a statement Saturday announcing that he is seeking an unspecified form of treatment “to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.” It remains unclear what kind of treatment the New York Democrat is seeking; Weiner’s office did not respond to a request for further details.

According to the Congressional Research Service, all health-care plans provided by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, for which members of Congress are eligible, “cover a range of benefits, including hospital, surgical, physician, mental health, prescription drug, emergency care and ‘catastrophic’ benefits.” The exact benefits depend on which specific plan a member selects.

By  |  06:02 PM ET, 06/13/2011

 
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