Should Congress Continue To Receive Pensions and Perks?
Should Congress continue to collect their sizeable pensions? A new freshman senator says “drain the swamp”.
Last week, newly elected first-time Republican senator Mike Braun from the state of Indiana said that he has introduced legislation to eliminate congressional pensions. Former Florida Governor Rick Scott, now a senator as well, joined Braun in introducing the End Pensions in Congress Act. “By ending congressional taxpayer-funded pensions, we will take one more step toward draining the swamp in Washington,” Braun wrote.
The Republican duo said that it is time to end taxpayer-funded pensions in an effort to bring Washington in line with the less-lucrative private sector. The two senators want to put an end to the entitlements and luxurious perks that have become far too commonplace in the hallowed halls of Congress. In particular, the two referred to the six-figure annual pension that Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has amassed.
Braun said that he would never accept his pension, and that if he was somehow forced to do so, would pledge to donate “every penny to Hoosier charities,” he said in an interview with the Indiana Journal Gazette.
What Are Congressional Pensions Like Anyway?
Congressional pensions are determined by salary level, length of service and retirement age. Most federal lawmakers earn roughly $175,000 per year, but are not pension-eligible until they have served a minimum of five years. A Congressman must be at least 50 years old and have 25 years of service, or otherwise age 62 before collecting the full pension.
Leadership positions like majority and minority leaders and Speaker of the House make anywhere from $193,000 to $223,000. Congressmen earn this salary annually for each year of their term – two years for a House member and six years for a Senator. If a member of Congress dies in office, the family is paid out the year’s $174,000 salary; military families by comparison receive $100,000 when a member of the military is killed in action.
By law, the pensions cannot exceed 80 percent of the person’s salary at the time of retirement. In other words, the law forbids a Congressman from earning a full salary in retirement.
Using Pelosi as an example, if she were to retire in 2019, she would collect a pension of $102,000 because she has served in Congress for 33 years. Obviously, there are no term limits.
Braun and Scott advocate that their jobs are to serve the American people rather than engaging in self-enrichment with special benefits funded by taxpayers. However, Braun is not an advocate of taking everything away; under his plan, Congress would keep the 401(k) retirement savings plans (called the Thrift Savings Plan).
Other Congressional Perks
Congressmen also get sizeable allowances for staff funding, office expenses and travel. On average, senators get $3.3 million while a typical House member gets nearly $1 million. They get tax deductions too – around $3,000 per year in living expenses incurred while they are in Washington and away from home.
By comparison, the median American household income in 2017 was $61,372. While some think these salaries and perks are high, advocates say the salaries are on par with other professionals in the high cost-of-living D.C. and Virginia area. Advocates point out that Congress has not received a raise since 2009.
But Wait, There’s More
The benefits of Congress far outweigh those available to the average American worker, and many of the perks last long after their time in office. Take a gander at the list of perks, as provided by the Congressional Research Service.
Taxpayers still fund Congressional members’ official constituent mail for up to 90 days after the person leaves office. Congress gets free reserved parking at all Washington, D.C. airports. Congress can also reserve airline seats on multiple flights, but they only actually pay for the flight they take, and all major airlines have a dedicated staff just for Congress. Amazingly, the Senate even has its own hair salon; it is open to the public for haircuts, manicures and the like, but Congress can bump someone off the appointment list to take the spot. Former Congressmen join an alumni organization called the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, and are able to enjoy dining rooms, gym facilities and other amenities, some with a small fee. They are also allowed to borrow exclusive items from the Library of Congress. Former Congressmen can go to the chamber floor whenever they want to as long as they are not employed to influence legislation.
Should Congress Be Paid At All?
Compensation of Congress has always been a heated issue. At the beginning of the country’s history, most people serving in government were fairly wealthy, and as such, the founding fathers did not advocate taxpayer compensation of Congress. When the Articles of Confederation were put in place, states had control of their congressman’s compensation and could suspend the salary if the state became dissatisfied with the person’s job performance.
After a while, the federal government became more centralized and Congressional compensations became more equal across the board. In 1789, it was agreed that compensation would come out of the federal coffers, to the tune of about $6 per day while in session about five months of the year. In 1816, Congressional compensation changed from the per day rate of $6 to the per year rate of $1,500. Public outrage ensued, Congress repealed the law, but in 1855, annual salaries were once again implemented and have not changed since.
Braun is certainly not the first to introduce pension-eliminating legislation; in 2015, a Kansas Republican did the same, but the measure never was voted on.