Federal Government · Uncategorized

The Truth About Congressional Pensions

“Congressmen serve just one term and get their full salary for LIFE!”

Any denizen of the internet dot com has surely seen a claim of this nature, or perhaps even received one of those chain emails ranting about the travesty of our political system. The idea is so widespread that most people refuse to question it. Even people running for Congress, such as this “decolonized madre,” accept the notion at face value:

Sema sounds like a great human organism, but she’s woefully incorrect, just like everyone who spits this talking point without so much as a fact check. In reality, congressional pensions are not nearly as lavish as people claim, and certainly fall short of the quote’s mark.

Most existing members of Congress are party to the FERS system, a modified version of the earlier CSRS model which was phased out in 1984. Under this program, participants enjoy access to a tripartite system which includes a small pension, a 401k with matching, and Social Security. The highest percentage of their total salary ($174,000) for a pension is about 34 percent, and the average FERS pension in 2014 was $42,048. That’s decent, but nothing close to “full salary for life.”

The 80 percent idea holds some water, but data available suggests it only kicks in after 32 years of service. To put things in perspective, former representative Howard Coble of North Carolina retired in 2015 after thirty years of service. His pension would have been $130,500, but he turned it down. Nothing miserable about such a figure, but it took three decades to accrue, not a single, two-year term.

As for the one-term pension argument, let us keep in mind that a person must serve five years to even be eligible for a federal pension. In the case of former senator Kay Hagan, she served one six-year Senate term and was in line for a whopping $16,000 annual pension. That amount is certainly not chickenfeed to the working class, but hardly an extravagant offering.

I admit to disliking Congress more than the next person, yet that doesn’t excuse blatant ignorance. Do a Google search and find the facts, not a popular opinion.

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