Yesterday, I wrote disparaging comments about our elected officials claiming they get retirement for life and free medical care. And, I bought into that same email information that they do not pay into social security like the rest of us do. A reader, Jim, pointed out to me in a message following yesterday’s blog, that my information was wrong. He pointed me to an article by Phil Scott published in the respected AARP Newsletter about congressional salaries and benefits. Like so many of you, when money rules over good sense, I get cynical and hastily toss off bad news like a righteous knight bent on correcting wrongs.
To correct this error, Scott’s article follows. It just isn’t as bad as I believed it to be, and I should have checked.
And, yesterday, I couldn’t remember granddaddy Bush’s name, and the website from which the information came seemed to have disappeared or I couldn’t find it. The Bush’s and Nixon’s were distant cousins and I got this message on Facebook from William:
William wrote: “Prescott Bush was vice president of Brown Brothers Harriman bank when it was siezed under the “Trading With The Enemy” act. That is why Bush hated Roosevelt so thoroughly. That is a large part of why the Republicans are still trying to undo the Roosevelt legacy. Following World War II, the Republicans established a “Committee of 400″ to start seeking candidates to run against New Deal Democrats. Prescott Bush was the chairman of the committee that selected Richard Nixon to run against Jerry Voorhis in 1946. The Dulles brothers law firm represented Brown Brothers Harriman bank in their case against the government to retrieve their siezed assets. I served in an intelligence division of Strategic Air Command under the Eisenhower/Nixon administration. Nixon was Ike’s vice president. John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State. Allen Dulles was director of the CIA. Prescott Bush was Ike’s golfing partner, all around political advisor, and ‘handler.’ That gang had Ike surrounded on duty and off duty.”
I thank you both, Jim and Wililam for refreshing my information.
Read Phil Scotts article below:
Tales of extravagant congressional pensions abound on websites and in e-mail chains.
Not exactly true. Congressional retirement and health care benefits are far less lavish than critics claim.
For the most part, benefits for Congress are similar to those of any federal employee, although there are differences.
Nearly all Congress members are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System. The FERS retirement plan has three parts:
Social Security. Members of Congress have Social Security taxes withheld from their pay like other workers, and are eligible for retirement benefits beginning at age 62.
Before 1984, members of Congress were covered by the old Civil Service Retirement System and were not required to pay into Social Security — nor could they get a Social Security benefit. But at present, all members of Congress must pay into Social Security, including nearly 50 currently serving members who were first elected before 1984.
A pension benefit. People on the federal payroll, including members of Congress, receive a traditional “defined benefit” pension, something that is available to only a small percentage of private-sector workers.
According to the Congressional Research Service, in October 2006 the average annual pension for a retired member of Congress who served under FERS was $35,952, compared with the current $174,000 salary for active members.
(Members of Congress won’t be affected by President Obama’s proposal for a pay freeze for federal employees — Congress sets its own pay scales separately, and in 2009 and 2010 voted to forgo its usually automatic annual pay increases.)
A member who leaves office before serving five years because of an election defeat or resignation is not eligible for a pension. And any member who is convicted of a crime such as bribery, fraud, racketeering or perjury for acts committed after September 2007 is ineligible.
But, on grounds that working in Congress means uncertain job security, elected members and their staffs receive a larger retirement benefit from FERS for each year of service than other federal employees. They also become eligible for a retirement annuity at a younger age and with fewer years of service.
In return, they contribute a higher percentage of their pay to participate in FERS — 1.3 percent instead of 0.8 percent for most workers. As in the private sector, the bulk of the retirement benefit’s cost is picked up by the employer, in this case, the U.S. government.
Members of Congress can begin drawing their full pension at age 62 if they have completed five years of service, at age 50 with 20 years’ service, or at any age with 25 years’ service. They can collect a reduced pension with 10 years of service at ages 55 to 57, depending on their birth year.
The Thrift Savings Plan. This is a “defined contribution” plan available to all federal employees and similar to the 401(k) plans common in the private sector. There’s a difference: Whether or not the employee chooses to save anything, the government contributes 1 percent of base pay to the savings plan.
Members of Congress participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program along with about 8 million federal workers, retirees and their dependents. They are subject to the same rules and receive the same coverage. Compared with health plans offered by private employers, the FEHBP offers more choices — in fact, “the widest selection of health plans in the country,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Congress members are also eligible for Medicare, and pay the same 1.45 percent tax on their salary as do other workers.
A few extras
Congress members do receive some medical benefits beyond those available to regular federal workers.
For an annual payment of $503, members can receive routine care from the Office of the Attending Physician, which has facilities in the Capitol. ABC News reported last year that these services include physicals and other examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists.
In addition, current members (but not their dependents) can receive medical and emergency dental care at military hospitals and clinics. Inpatient care is covered by FEHBP insurance, but outpatient care is free if it’s performed at facilities in the national capital region, such as Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland or Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District of Columbia.
This benefit is likely the source of persistent online rumors that all medical care is free for Congress members.
Phil Scott is a New York-based journalist.