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Can Members of Our U.S. Congress Retire With Full Pay After Just One Term? The Dirty Details!
Have You Heard That Members of Congress Can Retire After Just One Term With Full Pay For the Rest of Their lives?
Several years ago I heard for the first time that members of the U.S. Congress could serve only one term and then retire and receive their same salary from the government for the rest of their lives.
Apparently there is an email that is forwarded periodically to remind people that Congress members have incredible benefits. I was reminded of the too-good-to-be-true benefits congress members receive recently in comments left on a couple of my articles (hubs). Also a dear friend wondered out loud in a conversation we were having, if Congress members who resign before their term is up, or if they are forced to resign, also get those amazing benefits for life.
Having accepted the reality of these Congressional benefits for a long time without question like I am sure many of my readers have done, this time was different for me. For some reason a question formed in my mind as to whether or not what has become a common belief regarding this issue is in fact based in reality and truth. I decided to see if I could find the truth about Congressional benefits and pensions.
Previously I have acted on other ‘facts’ that are taken for granted as true in our society in order to determine if they were in fact, facts! For example, I wondered whether or not it is true that men really do think about sex every 7 seconds as they have been accused of doing for decades. I shared my findings with my readers in a hub titled: Do Men Really Think About Sex Every 7 Seconds?
More recently I questioned what I have heard for years about men being the better motor vehicle drivers. The title of the article that reports my surprising findings is: Are Men Better Drivers or Are Women Better Drivers?
Oh my, what a hornet’s nest I stirred up with that article about who is the better driver! So before embarking on the research for this article, which may stir the passions of some people since it is by its nature somewhat political, I took the precaution of arranging for personal security with Blackwater, famous for their policy of taking no prisoners in Iraq. They are to surround and accompany me everywhere I go from the moment this article is published. (Just joking.)
Please be aware that I am reporting my findings from reputable sources and not cherry picking those sources that agree with me. In fact, I think all of our Congress members regardless of political party are doing better than they should be given that they are supposedly servants of the people, paid with tax dollars.
As always, my references are posted both within and at the end of this article for anyone who cares to review them, and for anyone who wishes to pursue more information on this subject.
State of the Union Address 2013
Terms and Salaries of Congress
As my readers know, one term in the United States Senate equals 6 years, and one term in the House of Representatives equals 2 years.
Currently rank and file members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate each receive a salary of $174,000.00 a year.
Senate and House leadership positions, such as Minority and Majority Leader, pay $193,400.00 a year each. The Speaker of the House is paid $223,500.00 per year.
All members of Congress receive a cost-of-living-adjustment, sometimes referred to as a COLA, every year unless they vote NOT to accept it. Sometimes Congress does vote not to accept the raise in order to impress on their constituents that they are tightening their belts too, but not often. Also, individual Congressmen/women sometimes turn down pay increases (Robert Longley, About.com).
Congress must vote not to accept COLAs to prevent them from automatically taking affect. COLAs became automatic for members of Congress in 1989, by of course, an act of Congress (Ethics Reform Act of 1989). Since that time Congress has voted not to accept the automatic COLA 7 times, most recently in 2011 (Robert Longley, About.com).
Is It True That a Member of Congress Can Collect Full Salary For Life After Serving Just One Term In Office?
The following information was obtained from PolitiFact.com, FactCheck.org, Snopes, Robert Longley who writes an excellent guide to government information on About.com, and last but not least, Congressional Research Service (this is a U.S. government agency).
U.S. Federal law prevents any member of Congress from receiving a starting retirement annuity of more than 80% of his or her final salary. That alone makes clear that no member of Congress is able to collect 100% of their salary if they do not serve more than one term regardless of why they did not serve more than one term. A retired member of Congress can never collect more than 80% of their final salary prior to retiring -- ever.
There are more requirements members of Congress must meet in order to receive any retirement at all. Apparently ‘red tape’ is not limited to us peasants.
To collect any retirement benefits, a member of congress must have served a minimum of 5 years and then must also meet one of the following requirements:
*A U.S. Congress member who has served fewer than 20 years must be at least 62 years of age to be eligible to collect any retirement benefits. Even then it will be based on his or her income for the years served. It will not be his or her same salary paid when still in office, for life -- more on this later.
*A Congress member may collect retirement if he or she has served at least 20 years and is at least 50 years old. His or her retirement income will again be based on his or her salary during the years served.
*A Congress member can collect retirement at any age once she or he has served for a minimum of 25 years. Again, the retirement income will be based on his or her salary for the years served.
In order to meet the minimum requirement of having served 5 years, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives would have to have served for 3 terms, since their terms are for 2 years each time.
U.S. Senators would have to serve only one term of 6 years. Remember however, that even after they meet the requirement of having served a minimum of 5 years they must also meet an age requirement of 62 years as stated above, unless they have served 20 years or more.
These requirements along with the federal law preventing any retired member of Congress from ever collecting more than 80% of their final salary makes clear that no member of Congress can retire after just one term and then begin collecting their usual full salary for life.
Who Are the Wealthiest Members of Congress?
Number one wealthiest Congressman is Republican Darrel Issa, a member of the House of Representatives from California with a net worth of 355 million dollars.
Number two wealthiest Congressman is Republican Michael McCaul, a member of the House of Representatives from Texas with a net worth of 101 million dollars.
Number three wealthiest Congressman is Democrat Mark Warner, Senator from Virginia with a net worth of 88.5 million dollars.
Who is considered to be the poorest member of Congress? It is said to be Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from the state of New York with a net worth of 166 thousand dollars.
Interesting Notes Regarding Congressional Pensions
There is one thing that may be upsetting for some people. Members of Congress who meet the requirements stated above, can and still do collect their pensions and other benefits even if they are charged and convicted of a felony while holding office. In fact, they can and do collect their pensions while serving in prison and after serving in prison for their convictions, and collect their full pensions and other benefits the entire time so long as they meet the requirements stated above (see Anderson Cooper in the reference section below for more details).
Something else that may be of interest – some members of Congress who served as state legislators before being elected to the U.S. Congress will receive a pension from both the state they represent and from the federal government too. Some U.S. Congressmen who have been in office for several years are already receiving pensions from the states they represent in addition to their salaries.
About 90 members of both Houses already collect pensions from previous service when they worked for the states they now represent in the U.S. Congress. The practice is referred to as double dipping (National Journal.com).
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate has a procedure after the death of a member where they make a gift to the deceased member’s surviving spouse and or children. This usually takes place after the funeral has occurred and is usually a gift to the surviving spouse or children of one year’s salary equivalent to that member’s salary when she or he died. I could find no hard fast rule regarding the amount of the gift, only a reference to the traditional amount given – one year’s salary.
More Interesting Stats About Our Current Congress
More than 100 members of Congress collected public pensions in addition to their taxpayer-financed $174,000 salary in 2012, according to the National Journal.
Tom Petri, Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District has been in the U.S. Congress for 36 years (as of 2013) and prior to being elected to his current position he served in the Wisconsin State Senate for 6 years.
At the time Tom Petri was first elected only 5 years of service were required in order to be vested. So far Mr. Petri has collected a total of some $64,000 since 2008 in retirement payments from the state of Wisconsin while also collecting his salary from the federal government of $174,000 a year (Watchdog.org).
Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District has collected retirement funds from the state of Wisconsin from his 10 years in the Wisconsin State Assembly, in the amount of nearly $100,000 since 2008, while collecting his annual salary of 174,000 as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Watchdog.Org).
Only 1% of all American citizens are millionaires, but 47% of Congress members (or 249 members) are millionaires (ABC News). Forbes disagrees and says that 261 members of Congress are millionaires.
In 2010 the average median net worth of a Senator was 2.56 million. Even those members of Congress who are not millionaires are at least financially comfortable while many of their constituents who must contribute to their salaries are not (Center for Responsive Politics, reported by ABC News).
How Congressional Retirement Income Is Determined
The pension of a retired member of congress is determined by averaging their salary for the 3 years that his or her salary was its highest while a member of congress, and then multiplying that number by the number of years served. That number is then multiplied by 1.7 for their first 20 years in office. If they have served more than 20 years, the number of years over 20 is multiplied by 1.0.
“A three-term congressman (or one-term senator) who has reached retirement age [62 years of age] would be eligible for an annual pension of $17,588 for six years of work,” (PolitiFact.com). That is the amount their retirement income from congress would be if they started collecting in 2011.
Members of congress pay 1.3% of their salary into their retirement program. Rumors that members of congress do not have to contribute anything to their own retirement program are false. For a more detailed explanation of the different retirement programs available to Congress members visit Congressional Research Service and or Robert Longley at the links here provided.
According to PolitiFact, a rank and file member of Congress who retired after 25 years of service in 2011 would average about $67,249 per year in benefits. While this amount is not even half of what the gossip suggested it was, it is still a fair amount of money compared to what most people will get when they retire.
Most people will get Social Security and nothing else, and often that Social Security is not very much. I know people who get as little as $325 a month. Not enough to pay very many bills. Many people on Social Security have to decide if they will buy food, buy necessary prescription drugs, or pay the electric bill.
Our Congress is doing pretty well salary, benefits, and pension-wise, compared to most of our population, and their pensions are coming in part from people who cannot afford to pay their own bills.
Given the comparatively high pensions members of congress will receive in retirement, it seems a little impertinent that they are telling people their Social Security benefits will have to be cut back, especially when people are at an age when they cannot make arrangements to offset their loss of Social Security benefits even if they wanted to.
Most people nowadays have to work to supplement their Social Security and their pensions if they are lucky enough to get a pension. What happens if a person is unable to work which will happen at some point as they age?
Given that many people become millionaires after they are elected to Congress it would seem that they are getting a lot of benefits that we who hired them, have not, and are not, being informed about.
Do Members of Congress Pay Social Security Taxes?
Amendments to the Social Security Act in 1983 required federal employees who were hired in 1983 to begin paying into the Social Security program. Members of Congress, regardless of when they first became members of that body were required to begin paying into the Social Security Program on January 1, 1984. Members of Congress pay 6.2% of their salaries into the Social Security Program (Robert Longley).
Medical Benefits for Members of Congress
Beginning in 2014, members of Congress and their employees (office staff, etc.) will get their medical insurance through the Health Insurance Exchanges set up for the Affordable Care Act better known as ObamaCare.
The Health Insurance Exchange boards set up in every state will offer a variety of plans at different prices, presumably something affordable for everyone. To learn more about ObamaCare and how it will work, I recommend that you visit this website that explains who is not required to purchase health insurance as well as many other facts about The Affordable Care Act. Not everyone will be required to purchase insurance nor will everyone be fined if they fail to do so. Get the facts.
Other Benefits U.S. Congress Members Receive
Congress members are each allowed a $3,000 federal tax deduction for their living expenses away from their homes in their congressional districts.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives receive an average of $1,353,205.00 to cover expenses for doing their job including an office, staff, and the cost of operating that office. For more details I again refer you to Robert Longley.
Members of the U.S. Senate receive an average of $3,209,103.00 for the purpose of maintaining their office and paying staff, etc. Again, for more detail on exactly how this allowance is determined and exactly what it covers and what it does not cover, follow the link provided above. Not all members of congress receive the same allowance and to learn why, check Mr. Longley’s excellent explanations.
What Do You Think?
How do you feel now that you know the truth about U.S. Congress members pensions and retirement benefits?
Our Senators At Work
Why Do People Readily Accept Questionable Information as Fact?
It is interesting that people are so willing to accept something that comes to them from a completely unknown source, such as a forwarded email. Yes, you probably know the person who forwarded it to you, but how much do you know about the person who originated the contents of that email? Anything at all?
Did you, or the person who forwarded the email to you take the thirty seconds (yes seconds) it takes in most cases, to check the validity of the claims in that forwarded email? Just wanting the accusations in an email to be true will not make them so.
I frequently receive forwarded emails on political issues from many different people and sometimes I take the time to verify the claims in them. Often the claims are so obviously bogus that I do not bother to verify them. Neither do I forward them on.
To forward an email to other people is to say that one agrees with it and supports it. People who engage in this practice are putting their own reputations on the line.
If I do not know for a certainty that what is included in a political or informational email is accurate and factual, then I am spreading what may be misinformation. In many cases it is not just misinformation, but blatant lies.
If I forward an email of questionable character, I am allowing myself to be used by a particular person or party to gain political advantage through misleading, and/or lying, to people. In most cases the people that receive that misleading email are my friends and family.
If a person is enabling and helping to spread misinformation, do they really have a right to complain about how the people running our government or other agencies are taking unfair advantage of constituents or tax dollars?
For some reason many people are extremely gullible to anything in print or anything they hear on television or on radio. It never occurs to many people to verify what they have heard and I believe that speaks to why this misinformation spreads like wild fire in the first place.
I recommend my article titled: How Do You Know If Information Is Accurate? How to Evaluate Information Sources.
Sources for This Article
One Fifth of Congress is Double Dipping
Watchdog.Org On Whose Double Dipping
My Daily News on Millionaires in Congress
Pay and Benefits of U.S. Congress
Anderson Cooper on Congress pensions even though felons
Survivor benefits for Congress member’s wives/children
© 2013 C E Clark