Are congressmen worth $107,000 a year in retirement?

September 2003, all members of Congress have been required to participate in the pension plan.
Wire
Feb 24, 2013

After retiring from a 36-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, Norm Dicks has no doubt that he’s worth every penny of his new pension: It will allow the Washington state Democrat to cash a monthly check from the U.S. government for $7,365.82.

That’s the net pay on his gross annual pension of $107,268, or $8,939 per month.

“I think I did a good job for the people in the state of Washington, you know. I think that this is fair, I really do,” Dicks, 72, said in an interview.

Dicks, who’s now working as a consultant with defense companies, is among a handful of departing members of Congress who are eligible for six-figure pensions in the first year of retirement. If he lives long enough, his pension could exceed his congressional salary of $174,000 in 2012, with members eligible for annual cost-of-living increases.

Altogether, about 75 new retirees will add to the estimated $28 million in yearly pension costs for Congress.

Critics say the pension system is far too generous and that members of Congress should put their retirement money on the table as they look for ways to cut federal spending.

Florida Republican Rep. Rich Nugent, a retired sheriff elected in 2010, said Congress should at least allow members to opt out of the pension system. Some members who’ve been around awhile declined to participate, including Republican Reps. Howard Coble of North Carolina and the just-retired Ron Paul of Texas.

But since September 2003, all members of Congress have been required to participate in the pension plan.

“I guess that’s kind of the way you cover your butts, I’m not sure,” Nugent said in an interview.

Last month, he reintroduced a bill called the Congress Is Not A Career Act that would permit lawmakers to choose not to participate in the pension system or the federal Thrift Savings Plan, a 401(k)-style plan that supplements the pension and allows members to save their own retirement money, receiving a match of up to 5 percent from federal taxpayers. He said the nation’s founding fathers never intended for people to make careers out of serving in Congress.

“Personally, I don’t believe that we should be up there for 30 or 40 years. ... It’s just my personal belief that it’s an honor to serve and I really shouldn’t be enriching myself long after my service is over,” Nugent said, adding that his bill hasn’t been popular — he has yet to line up a single co-sponsor. “I’ve had some folks that are senior to me that are not necessarily very happy with that.”

As of October 2011, 495 retired members of Congress were drawing pensions under two different plans, the Congressional Research Service said in a report to Congress last November.

Under the older plan, which covered members who were elected before 1984, 280 were receiving average annual pensions of $70,620. The remaining 215 members were getting smaller pensions under the new plan, averaging $39,576 in 2011, the report said.

According to estimates from the National Taxpayers Union, Dicks and least five others who retired last month are eligible for maximum pensions of $125,000 after serving at least 32 years in Congress: six-term Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Democratic Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan and three House members from California — Democrat Pete Stark and Republicans Jerry Lewis and David Dreier.

“That’s a pretty rich pension. I will tell you that most people don’t receive that kind of pension,” Nugent said.

Dicks, the longest-serving House member in Washington state history, who ranked 10th in seniority among the 435 House members, said he’d decided to lower his pension by opting for a survivors benefit that will provide payments to his wife, too. And he said he’d contributed up to 7.5 percent of his income each year to save for his retirement.

“It isn’t like you haven’t made a personal contribution,” said Dicks, who worked eight years as a Senate staffer before joining the House in 1977.

On average, congressional pensions are two to three times as generous as those offered to workers in the private sector with similar salaries, according to Pete Sepp, the executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, a 362,000-member group that’s long lobbied for tightening up the pension system. But he said those comparisons had become increasingly difficult to make because so many private employers have scrapped their defined-benefit plans, opting for 401(k) plans that rely mainly on employee contributions.

Specific pension amounts vary depending on years of service in Congress, whether members had other jobs in the federal government, when they enrolled and whether they’re married.

Estimates from the taxpayers union show the wide range of pensions that a handful of recent retirees have qualified for: $64,000 per year for Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman; $60,000 for Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello of Illinois; nearly $52,000 for Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; nearly $48,000 for Republican Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina; $37,000 for Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada; $35,000 for Washington Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, who became the state’s governor last month; $33,500 for Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza of California; $26,600 for Democratic Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina; $21,000 for Florida Republican Rep. Connie Mack; $16,000 for Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina; and nothing for Florida Republican Rep. Allen West, who served only two years, short of the five-year minimum required to get a congressional pension.

Eligible lawmakers generally may start receiving payments at age 62, or even younger if they served for a long period.

Sepp, who calculated the estimates, has been working on the issue for years, testifying before Congress last year and trying to shed light on a system that keeps private any specific information on how much lawmakers receive. In the past, the federal government released pension information under the Freedom of Information Act, but he said that changed in the late 1980s as a result of court cases involving privacy issues.

Sepp said members of Congress had designed a retirement system that provided them with pensions that were even more lucrative than those that other federal workers received. Last year, he told a congressional subcommittee that Congress had succeeded in creating what many consider “one of the most generous pension programs ever created.” And he said that members of Congress now had an opportunity to lead by example by making their benefits part of a deficit-reduction package this year.

“It’s not the easiest financial hit for lawmakers to take, but neither would it be a catastrophe,” Sepp said in an interview. “At the very least, they could harmonize their benefit formula with that of the rest of the federal government.”On average, Sepp said, Congress’ pension system costs $25 million to $30 million per year, depending on the ages of retirees and their lengths of service.

With Congress under pressure to constrain spending, Dicks said he wouldn’t be surprised if members made changes to the pension system, such as capping cost-of-living increases.

While the federal government doesn’t release pension information, Dicks said he had no problem disclosing his, since it involves taxpayers’ money.

“This is public,” he said. “And as I said, I’m proud of my service.”

Dicks said he was expecting his first pension check to arrive no later than mid-March.

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By Rob Hotakainen - McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

©2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Comments

Heitsche23

makes me sick to my stomach that these people, even after they retire, make this kind of money. they haven't worked hard a day in their life. but people who break their backs, working their asses off, like working construction, couldn't even THINK about making that in a year. or nurses, who work 12 hour shifts with patients, and save lives. the EMTs? they don't make anything comparable to this. the economy would be so much stronger if they took away some money from people like congressman, or professional sports players, and gave it to people who make minimum wage and can't even make it by. give it to the struggling families, to the students who struggle to make ends meet while they put themselves through college. help someone who actually has to WORK, instead of sitting in an air conditioned office talking about god only knows what.

KnuckleDragger

It should make you sick. If you include the fact that we also foot the bill for their premium health care insurance, you can add significantly more to their yearly benefit. What sickens me the most is that a person with 5 yrs in Congress receives a larger retirement payout than most military retirees get after 20 yrs of service. These congressmen risked nothing, and sacrifice nothing while they serve, yet are rewarded more than those who gave up their youth and have fought for their country. It is just sickening!!! While the military retirees get told year after year they are receiving either no COLA or a very small COLA, their medical care is being taken away more and more every year, Congress continues to give themselves a raise and better benefits. It is beyond me why we keep putting these people back in office. The people need to insist on a 6 yr term limit and no retirement benefits for these people. Our founding fathers never intended for politicians to make it a career, in fact, they specifically warned against it.

all fact or all...

Well said, I think there should be time limmits for congress like the office of the president, If someone isn't working for what the majority of voters want, vote them out next term, People have that power and don't use it. I get ticked when these members are out for a mounth or longer for holidays come back for a few days and take another 10 days off. I couldn't do that in my job, can you? I think they should live on social security, and military health insurance. Our military puts their lives at steak and their health ins. sucks. This congress is going to the proverbial "hell in a handbag!"

Chef Mike

No, people getting paid by our tax money should absolutely not be getting pensions from our tax money as well (they can fund their own retirements like everyone in the private sector), but give me break Heitsche23,

"the economy would be so much stronger if they took away some money from people like congressman, or professional sports players, and gave it to people who make minimum wage"

when did you start thinking that we lived in a socialist/communist country? I'm guessing in 2008 when we elected a socialist that keeps filling your head with that crap.

As far as people working for minimum wage, why is that happening? Life choices? We all had the same opportunities starting out. Some people made the wrong choices in life, why should they be rewarded with other people's money?

Teach your kids right from wrong at the start. Proven fact: if you do four things in life, you will not be poor - 1. Graduate from HS, 2. Graduate from college, 3. Get married, and 4. Don't have kids until the first three are accomplished.

Don't make the wrong choices in life and don't depend on the theft of other people's money to make up for your bad choices in life.

KnuckleDragger

So you don't think that someone who spent 20+ yrs in the military and went to war should receive any pension? How much of your youth did you give up to serve your country? I do agree however, that politicians should not be able to make it a career. We need term limits, or get rid of the benefits for them. I think if we got rid of their retirement, very few would stay on for a lifetime.

Cliff Cannon

In answer to the headline : No

future in jeopardy

I don't have a problem with them receiving this money. They spend years in a job that has direct influence on the future course of the entire world. They have to travel a lot, they are under stress from back home and in Washington itself. Pay isn't judged on hard work rather it is judged on importance. Being a congressman is very important.

abc456

Their travel is financed by taxpayers. They choose the stressful job by running for office. Being a Congressman is very important, but shouldn't be a gravy train for the rest of their lives.
They should be participating in Social Security (which might be an incentive to fix the program) or, as in Ohio, be participating in the same retirement program that all other government employees use (PERS). Instead, the men and women in Congress exempt themselves from the very programs and decisions that they force the rest of us to live under.

KnuckleDragger

So we should reward them for the horrible job they are doing? If I were to do as bad of a job at work as the current ilk of politicians in DC, I would be on the unemployment line, not receiving a pension.

future in jeopardy

They are not doing a horrible job. This is how our system of government works, it is supposed to be very difficult to get large projects done. This is part of the reason the United States has thrived for so long, when one party has had a little more control, the other is able to block partisan policies.

Really are you ...

.

Really are you ...

If they do their job that is. When was the last time they made a very important decision or comprimised to get a bill passed?

kURTje

Glad to see an article like this. ALL elected officials need pay & benifits cut. Starting @ the top.

KnuckleDragger

Nope, instead they are throwing retired military under the bus. No COLAs for 2 out of the last three yrs, health care premiums and copays up 30% (outpaced my COLA), and now was just told they are dropping all retirees and their families who live more than 40 miles from a military base off HMO plan (lower out of pocket expenses), onto the high deductible, high cost share plan (Tricare Standard) in October. I wonder how big of a raise Congress is giving themselves this year? They can all rot for all I care.

Contango

"Some members who’ve been around awhile declined to participate, including Republican Reps. Howard Coble of North Carolina and the just-retired Ron Paul of Texas."

IMO, give 'em a defined contribution 401(k)-like retirement plan. The govt. makes a set low percentage annual matching contribution and they put in the balance.

Defined benefit pension programs are largely dinosaurs in the private sector due to legislative complexity and expense and they should be in the public sector as well.

Why should taxpayers guarantee public pension payouts, when the same courtesy is not extended to the private sector?

Really are you ...

Too bad they still won't also recieve that special intrest groups' money they use to recieve while they were an active member of congress.

tadpole

Well, if they are then I'm worth more because I am an honest person.

Contango

"It was all the unfunded pensions owed to soldiers that destroyed Rome.

Today, government workers demand the state honor what it promised regardless of the impact upon the economy and society. They want their’s."

http://armstrongeconomics.com/20...

KnuckleDragger

So you think that the military, especially those who were forced to serve during the last 15 yrs should get nothing after serving 20+ yrs? Have to disagree. I would love to see how well you would have held up after 20 yrs of Uncle Sam busting your body up. The pension is a pittance compared to what one is forced to endure during a 20 yr military career. The ones calling for the destruction of military pensions are the same ones who never served a day. If they want to change it, fine. They need to honor the promises made to previous service members and simultaneously institute a new system for those currently joining. They also need to be upfront about it, which is something they haven't done in the past. The only problem with getting rid of the current system is that they will likely have to institute a draft because they will not be able to retain servicemen after the initial 4 yr hitch. Who is gonna give up the prime of their life and leave physically broken for nothing?

Contango

@KD:

Nah. U.S. military health and welfare pension benefits are fine.

It's exorbitant Roman military pensions where I had the problem.

You’d have to agree that govt. spending is outa control. Everyone has their sacred cow, which is why this country is headed for economic collapse IMO.

Every great nation and empire was eventually destroyed by debt and military adverturism.

KnuckleDragger

I agree, spending is outta control, but I can tell you that my military pension is far from exorbitant. In fact the 5 yr congressman makes a larger pension and gets better health care benefits than I do. The defense of this country is one of the only things the gov't is responsible for, according to the Constitution. However, it seems to be the only thing they want to make cuts too. Heaven forbid we take away welfare checks from someone who hasn't earned it.

inquiringmind

It's to bad that we can't all get together and vote them out after only two or four years. If they need five years to get a pension, that would solve the problem. Of course I know that it isn't going to happen. So many voters go into the booths and just make an X by someone's name just so they can say that they voted. You need to know WHO you are voting for and WHAT kind of a record he has.

Fromthe419

Put our politicians on social security and I guarantee they will find a way to fix it. Maybe just maybe they wouldn't have robbed it blind when it had a surplus for all of those years. If they had some "skin in the game" they would have been better stewards of it.

Heitsche23

its not always about "life decisions." i'm barely out of high school putting myself through college. i work a minimum wage job and can barely get by. i have no experience, so should i be punished for the "choices i made?" yes, when someone people CHOOSE to be a bum and live off the government, that's one thing. but not everyone has the "same" opportunity. when you come from nothing, usually you don't get far because that's what you've seen all your life. not that they don't want to, but it's hard to make something out of yourself when you have nothing to do it with. i have to rely on student loans to help me pay my bills, but if i made another couple dollars an hour i wouldn't have to. i agree, some people choose to live the poor life, but not everyone. some people just need help getting their foot in the door.

propman

The real question is-
Are they worth that when IN office.

sorryhog

They are not worth what they are being paid while they are in office.Look at the mess this country is in at the current time.

arnmcrmn

Avg. income took a 3.6% beating, but hey...as long as Messiah says "we all good", I guess we can keep on spending our way out of this.......(insert sarcasm).