October 25, 2012

Larry Greenemeier, writes for Scientific American. He sites a study about voting by mail that may make you reconsider that practice.

The biggest challenge to voting accuracy in the U.S. isn’t hanging chads or hacked voting machines—it’s the mail. A new report by the Voting Technology Project (VTP)—a joint venture between the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—finds that even though absentee ballots account for about only a quarter of all ballots cast during an election, the number of uncounted absentee and election-day ballots may be roughly the same.

The researchers estimate that up to 3.9 million absentee ballots were requested but not received by voters in the 2008 presidential election. Another 2.9 million ballots sent to voters requesting them were not returned for counting. And 800,000 returned absentee ballots were rejected for one reason or another. In all, 21 percent of requested absentee ballots were never counted in 2008—35.5 million requests for absentee ballots led to 27.9 million mail-in ballots being counted.

The researchers acknowledge that they can only speculate as to what happens to these uncounted absentee ballots. In some cases, they note, absentee ballots can be intercepted before they even get into the mail stream. Other concerns are that people can buy or sell these ballots. There aren’t any strict chain-of-custody procedures for ensuring that the person who receives an absentee ballot in the mail is the same person who returns it, the researchers say.

Absentee and early voting has long been available to military personnel and voters unable to cast ballots in their home districts, but this convenience has more recently been extended to encourage people to vote and to ease the sometimes chaotic conditions found at polling stations on election day. Currently 36 states (plus the District of Columbia) now offer no-excuse absentee ballots, early voting or some combination of the two. Oregon and Washington have done away with traditional polling places entirely. All voting there is conducted by mail.

The report’s authors argue that the country needs to reverse the trend towards increased absentee and early voting. States should discourage absentee balloting among voters who do not require this service, they say. Likewise, election officials should quash the idea of Internet voting until the technology can be secured and audited. The researchers also call for additional research into new methods to get usable ballots to military and overseas civilian voters securely, accurately and quickly, and to make sure those ballots are returned in time to be counted.

The practice makes me wonder. Before going on the road with Jim, I worked our polls every year. There are so many inconsistencies in the way voting is regulated from state to state that it gave me pause. The rules can change from year to year. Such as: a person who Decline To State, is given a ballot with no party candidates on it. That person can request any ballot, Rebublican, Democrat, Green Party etc. but you are not allowed to tell them that or ask them what ballot they want to vote. Some come in shocked that their ballots didn’t contain the names of the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates on their primary ballot.  (But, mums the word.)  I thought that was a stupid rule.

At our polls, you can watch the county employees counting the vote. But, not the absentee ballots that are counted later. I think our county deserves a good conduct medal for how they conduct the voting, but there is plenty of room for abuse if a rigidly partisan person is the Supervisor of Voting.

During the debates last night, we had two emergency broadcasts about unusual and dangerous weather conditions in Nevada County, Placer County and El Dorado County. Tornadoes are something we don’t have in these parts. But, that was before we created a change in the climate, a subject that has not come up in any of the debates, and should have.

I thought Obama proved his leadership as a strong world leader during the debate that Romney could not counter. When he got buffaloed, he would divert to the economy hammering on a plan that does not work. I have  a hard time putting together the Mitt Romney who tells us who he is and the Mitt Romney of record.  But, I’m not the only one who feels that way I discovered.

I was on-line and read that the Salt Lake City Tribune had endorsed Obama. I didn’t believe it, so I checked and it is true. I was stunned.

Tribune endorsement:
Too Many Mitts- Obama has earned another term
First Published Oct 19 2012 12:13 pm • Last Updated Oct 22 2012 10:31 am
The Tribune article is copyrighted and can’t be reproduced here, but I can recapture some points of the editorial:

People admire him there in a largely Mormon, Republican, business friendly state and for his handling of the Olympics.

But, his bid for the White House has made abundantly clear that he courted the tea party in order to win the nomination, and now he has become a shape-shifter, embracing the party’s radical right wing all the while  claiming to be a moderate champion of the 47%.

(Direct Quote.) Romney has raised the most frequently asked question of the campaign: “Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?”

The editorial acknowledges that politicians routinely tailor their words to suit an audience.  But, (direct quote.) Romney, though, is shameless, lavishing vastly diverse audiences with words, any words, they would trade their votes to hear.

The editorial sites  Romney’s  failure to  share specifics of his radical plan to simultaneously reduce the debt, get rid of Obamacare (or, as he now says, only part of it), make a voucher program of Medicare, slash taxes and spending, and on and on, is utterly meaningless because it doesn’t add up, just as Obama keeps saying it doesn’t add up. If he is such a hot shot business man, why can’t he prepare a plan that we can all see and depend upon?

The editorial goes on to emphasize the many accomplishments of Obama. If you care to read the editorial, you will find it at this address:

The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board had hoped that Romney would exhibit the same talents for organization, pragmatic problem solving and inspired leadership that he displayed in years past. They failed to see that Mitt Romney.

(Direct quote”) …our endorsement must go to the incumbent, a competent leader who, against tough odds, has guided the country through catastrophe and set a course that, while rocky, is pointing toward a brighter day. The president has earned a second term. Romney, in whatever guise, does not deserve a first.


October 20, 2012

You know, a minute ago, we, you and I, just spent 2.2 million dollars. And, I didn’t want to do it. But that is the cost of military spending, 2.2 million dollars a minute.

Our military Department of Defense, War, Veterans Affairs, and Nuclear Weapons programs cost 60% of the budget.

Health and Human Services  6%

Education  6%

State 5%

Department of Homeland Security 4%

Housing and Urban Development 3%

Agriculture 2%

Justice 1.5%

NASA 1.5%

Energy 1.5%

Labor 1%

Treasury 1%

Interior 1%

Environmental Protection Agency 1%

Transportation 1%

Other Miscellaneous Programs 4.5%

These figures are based on the federal discretionary budget sent to congress for 2013.

Kind of puts things in perspective.  Reducing the military budget is the best legacy we can leave our kids.

A quote from President Eisenhower:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron

I’m remembering that Romney wants to increase military spending over the amount requested by the Department of Defense.  I find that incredibly upsetting.

Check out the One Minute For Peace Organization if you agree.



October 17, 2012

I should never watch the debates. It drives home the imperfections of our system . It frustrates me that I don’t have a real command of what our government does except in a general way.  In years past, I’ve never found such steady use of fact checkers to be a necessity.  During this campaign, you can’t do without them if you expect to be informed. The one I use most is:

It is from the respected Annenberg Public Policy Center.

We, the 99% may not know exactly what is going on in the halls of congress, but, you can count on the 1% to have the resources to know what goes on in the halls of congress.

Obama certainly did a better job at the debates, but he had to use the same tactics that Romney introduced in the first debate. Interrupting, talking over his opponent and the moderator, ignoring the time limits and leaving civility behind, as did Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debates. I guess this signals a new low for debates to follow. Am I the only one who would like to see a return to civility?

Romney continually hammered on jobs as the cure-all for the economy, and rightly so. He just doesn’t make a credible plan for how he will create those jobs. His numbers don’t add up. But we do know he will take away my tax deductions.  Now he says I can personally take $2,500 in tax deductions, period. But nobody will have to pay taxes on their dividends and capital gains. The 1%  hold the mega portfolios and stand to gain huge benefits from that plan. That leaves out most of the middle class who don’t have grand portfolios.

Obama and Romney were both weak on the immigration question and gun control.  Romney allowed the National Rifle Association to meet with sportsmen and they agreed on their principles of gun control for Massachusetts.  Basically, whatever you want, guys! Obama says enforce the laws we have on gun control. That would help, but it doesn’t happen. Maybe it is a state thing?

Obama has suggested amnesty for immigrants who have been here and worked and contributed to social security.  And, to make it easier for immigrants to come here legally.  That is not a very popular idea among most people.

Romney wants businesses to police immigrants with a green card. Unfortunately, green cards are easily manufactured and are useless. Businesses depend on immigrant workers to do the jobs they can’t hire anyone else to do. In Alabama, farmers have lost crops because they could not hire anyone to harvest them when they instituted new immigration laws. The new laws basically legalized racial profiling by police and teachers.

The first fact checker says Romney has more Pinocchios in his rhetoric. (And, once and for all, I wish people would quit sending me emails claiming Obama allows Illegal Immigrants to collect social security. It isn’t’ true.)

The town hall questions were good ones, but, not one question on climate change, or the environment. For climate change deniers, maybe they should look at islands in Fiji, the Solomons, Tuvalu, where water threatens to flood them out of existence. In Kiribati, 102,000 people have been evacuated to a nearby Island because of climate change flooding.

There was a passing reference to green jobs and energy. I did learn that both Obama and Romney are heavily supportive of oil and coal. What a disappointment. Drilling in the Antarctic?  Maybe they should both take a trip north and see what is happening there and study how unsafe the off shore drilling rigs are. Study how much oil  companies spend on safety and clean-up capabilities. Obama sites oil independence as a way to transition to green energy at home and has supported that technology in a big way. I don’t like it, but I understand that you can’t overnight turn us into a green energy nation. Even so,  I hated hearing them brag about pipelines and drilling. (No mention of fracking.)  Romney equally supports that idea as far as I could tell.

I don’t choose to spend my time being a fact checker on everything our government does. But, the truth be told, government is far too complex for an ordinary person to really keep up with everything that affects us. And this year, with corporations flooding the airwaves with distorted and misleading ads, it seems our only defense.

For a sample of what a Romney President might be like check this site:

There are many Fact checkers out there on every subject.  Fact Checking,  the new business driving our economy?  Fact Checkers R Us!

It is a mad campaign swirling around us and it is hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind. Speaking of mad, I recently read that people who study serial killers have made credible comparisons to people who run for office. They share many of the same traits. How many times have we heard someone say, “Ya gotta be crazy to run for President.” I am chuckling, folks, but then Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and other monsters pop into my head.  I’ll be glad when the election is over and we can all get back to some semblance of normal life, whatever that is.

I find it unbelievable that a man can get elected to public office and claim slavery is a blessing in disguise.  “The following link is too funny/scary not to pass on.”—down-ballot-notables


October 13, 2012

The White House has called on federal agencies and departments to improve the ability of government scientists to openly discuss their research and findings with media, policy makers, and the public. Some agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, have put forward policies that encourage such communication.

Government scientists should be able to alert the public when their research indicates a potential public health, safety, or environmental hazard.

Strange that we should NEED such a call to listen to science. Our whole world of inventions and weaponry , space travel and architecture, astronomy, road design, medicine, comfortable furnishings, computers, fabrics, mailing materials, machinery, building safe structures, growing more food per acre, improvements in glass, car safety, new technologies be it a bicycle or a car medical device have been invented or strengthened by  scientific testing and  investigation. We live every day with the things science has made possible.  We, as a country, used to lead the way in  scientific discoveries and investigation. Now we are #17 in the world.  Such a long fall from dominance.

How did we turn into a society that denies the overwhelming evidence of climate change?  It has hurt us as a country financially and in leadership around the world.

Part of it stems from the conflicted discoveries that appear to undermine religion. Red states with high numbers of fundamental religions, are where most climate deniers and anti science attitudes come from. Yet, many scientists believe in God and have religious beliefs.

The truth and nature of the world, which includes people, is a factual, solid place, not changed by science, but understood by science. However, people are more comfortable in their own beliefs and somehow feel it affects their self esteem if what they have  believed for most of their life is challenged.

Uneducated people regard scientists as some elite, arrogant class of know-it-alls that live off the taxpayers and deserve trashing. In fact scientists don’t make a lot of money. They have houses, a salary and spend into the private economy and pay taxes just like everyone else unless they work within a mega corporation where they can make better money. Where they buy houses, buy into the private economy and pay taxes like everyone else.

Scientists provide the infrastructure for great companies to succeed and compete. They are necessary to our capitalistic economy. And suspicions that they are liberals with an agenda to sway the public in some sort of conspiracy would take thousands and thousands of scientists to agree to a shady plan. It is unreal, untrue and unfortunate for all of us that such anti-scientific attitudes have been promoted and enhanced by politicians for their own gain. It is up to each of us to confront that attitude when we see it if we want to be the America we grew up with.






October 12, 2012

The debates have everyone atwitter, Biden smiled and chuckled too much, Ryan hesitated too long before answering a question he clearly didn’t expect about abortion, yatta ta yatta ta yatta. I guess the pundits have to earn their money someway, but not one of them mentioned the most telling line from Biden:

The next president will pick two jurists to serve on the United States Supreme Court. If the Romney ticket wins, you can expect a conservative court to be even more conservative. I think having such an unbalanced court is a disaster as in their recent decision giving corporations the same rights as a human. That is something to think about.

Ryan avoids answering the direct question, what is their plan to bring 12 million higher-paying jobs to Americans.  He says they will do it, but he can’t explain how. Biden says the way to get back to work is to let the Bush tax cuts expire and level the playing field for middle class Americans. Help out where needed just like the banks were helped. Working people PAY taxes.

It makes me nervous to watch the debates. I don’t watch the horrible ads I hear about. But, we have so much to lose and be concerned about if our leaders fail us. If there was only some way we could be guaranteed what we hear is honest, and hear plans to solve problems that are clear and concise. This campaign has given the fact checkers a lot of business. There are more, and more fact checkers needed. We should require our congressional leaders to take ethics classes before they take their oath. I would just once like to see a fact checker at a debate slap one of them across the knuckles with a ruler when he or she lies. And, I’d just once like to hear an ad that says, “This message has passed the fact checker for truthfulness.”

(I didn’t hear from the pundits that there was a proliferation of lies at this debate like the Presidential debate.)

And, no one mentioned Republican Senator Larry Pressler’s endorsement of President Obama, and the positive things the Obama Administration has done for veterans.

Yesterday, I proudly endorsed President Obama.

As a combat veteran of two tours of Vietnam with 22 years of service as a Republican member of the U.S. House and Senate, the choice was not easy.

But it is clear: President Obama recognizes that our sacred trust with those who serve starts when they take their oath, and never ends.

That’s why he’s enacted tax credits to spur businesses to hire unemployed veterans and wounded warriors. He implemented and improved the post-9/11 GI Bill, the largest investment in veterans education since the original GI Bill more than 60 years ago. He’s proposing a Veterans Jobs Corps that would help put returning service members to work as police officers, firefighters, and first responders.

President Obama ended the war in Iraq, and has a plan to responsibly end the war in Afghanistan. He’s laid out a clear plan that would reduce the deficit and prevent the mandatory arbitrary military spending cuts that no one wants.

And something that hits close to home: President Obama secured the largest increase in VA investments in decades, so veterans get the care and benefits they earned, like treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. As someone with service-related PTSD, I meet with younger veterans weekly to help them through the treatment and transition. It makes a difference for them knowing their president has their back.

And let me be clear: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would be disastrous for America’s service members, veterans, and military families.

When you fail to mention an ongoing war in accepting your party’s nomination to be president, or veterans in a so-called jobs plan, the public praise rings hollow.

Mitt Romney has time and again failed the test to be commander-in-chief of our nation’s military. When he politicized the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans in Libya, he demonstrated that he lacks the required resolve and steadiness. He sowed division between “us” and “them” when he wrote off 47 percent of Americans, including any veteran collecting disability like myself. He has still failed to outline any plan to end the war in Afghanistan or bring our troops home.

He has not proven himself fit to serve as commander-in-chief of this nation.

Now, that is clear and concise.


September 25, 2012

Fall is in the air, there is no mistaking it, the cooler nights; waking up in the dark instead of those sunny mornings. Brrr! There is something else in the air as well, politics. It’s become so ugly I know people who refuse to listen or to vote. I’m tired of the two-party system where you often have to hold your nose to vote. And, now the mega-bucks with attack ads on both sides filling the airwaves. Money that could so easily be spent on positive change. There are good things about politics, though. A local man, Tom Pratt, wholesome, positive, experienced and dedicated to excellence in education is running for School Board. He meets voters at a neighbors house. Now, that’s democracy you can identify with and get behind.

And, Alex Milward, a young high school student who put on a fundraising dinner for Obama as his senior project.  I attended the dinner, and I find my values more in line with the Democratic Party. But, this was such a wholesome event because this young man did it to encourage discourse in our local community. He learned skills like project management, financial tracking, sales and marketing, and public speaking to name a few. Hard work, too.

It was nice to meet neighbors at the event. The local caterer, I have no idea what Jenny Baxter’s political affiliation is, because it doesn’t matter in small town Murphys. Likewise the local musicians who played for the event.

We are all citizens in this soup together.  All morning, I emailed to friends and acquaintances something we can all get behind, Public Citizen, if you haven’t heard. Public Citizen is a non-partisan group attempting to return our campaign laws to the sanity of former years. They are working hard to overturn Citizens United Vs. Federal Election Commission.  Here is an excerpt from their letter:

A recent survey by the Associated Press and the National Constitution Center shows that 83% of Americans think there should be limits on how much money corporations can give to the outside groups that run so many of the dirty campaign ads polluting our airwaves.

It’s not about political parties: 85% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans and 78% of Independents support limiting corporate influence in elections.

And it’s not about income groups: Among people with household incomes over $100,000, the number actually goes up to 90%.

Overwhelmingly, We the People — across political and income spectrums — want corporations out of politics.

Yet a staggering amount of money is being spent by corporations (on behalf of candidates from both major parties, it must be said) seemingly bent on taking us back to the age of the Robber Barons.

With the problem so stark, with people so unified, Public Citizen has an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on all the momentum we’ve built together to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Please contribute $5, $50 or even $500 — whatever you can — right now to help Public Citizen seize the day in our shared fight against the corporate takeover.

This election is one of the most impactful and divisive of our time. I’m guessing you’re getting, and responding to, emails from candidates soliciting your support.

Public Citizen is proudly nonpartisan. We won’t tell you which candidates to support with your vote or your dollars.

But we’re doing critical work that we can’t just put on hold until after Election Day.

We have to prepare now so that we’re at maximum strength to make the most of the opportunities — and respond to the challenges — we’re going to face once the election results are in.

We simply can’t afford to ease off. Not for a month. Not for a day. Not for one moment.

I know not everyone can or will contribute to any of these political groups. But, just be aware they are out there and can use your financial help if you are so minded.


This year, the Obama administration moved to streamline the development of large-scale solar projects on public lands by approving vast tracts across the West  identified as the highest generating potential with the fewest environmental impacts. These sites were identified after the results of an environmental impact report.  An area of 285,000 acres, with sites in Nevada, Colorado, Utah, California, Arizona and New Mexico are in the works.  Jim and I saw one of those massive solar plants  being built in New Mexico earlier in the year.  We wondered why it was out in the middle of no-where. We didn’t know about the way the sites were chosen. Anyway, net result is clean power and jobs, jobs, jobs.

When I had my solar installed, there was a handful of people installing under rigid inspections and rules to make sure there was no space for failure during the process. Now I could choose from 600 different solar producers and as many installers. The rigid inspection process is still that way. I’m investigating solar for a rental because costs have come down so far.

And, we get enough electricity from wind power for 13 million homes. The energy department predicts  that by 2030, we could get 20 percent of our energy from the wind, about as much as we now get from nuclear power plants.

But progress on wind power is in jeopardy because Congress  has yet to renew an important incentive set to expire at the end of this year. It is called the production tax credit, or PTC,  Without it orders for wind turbines are likely to stall, impeding our transition away from coal. The wind industry employs over 37,000 Americans, and we need to keep those jobs, jobs, jobs.

The PTC was instituted by the George H.W. Bush administration, a sensible policy where anyone who operates a wind turbine or solar biomass, or other type of renewable power plant that produces a significant level of electricity to the commercial grid, receives a federal tax credit of 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power it produces for the first ten years of its life. It got renewed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package of 2009.

Two Republicans, Representative David Reichert, and Senator Chuck Grassley have sponsored versions to renew it through 2016 in the house, and 2014 in the senate. Neither measure  has come up for a vote but it is already being heavily lobbied against by the fossil fuel industries.

As a political pessimist, I fear the worst, and hope I’m wrong.  Wind generation is actually competitive in price with the energy produced by NEW coal plants and in my opinion no NEW coal plants should  be issued permits until they can reduce industrial pollution to an acceptable level. Coal plants actually cause deaths from their mercury, soot and carbon emissions, not to mention death to fish in streams.  Wind and solar save our planet from tons and tons of carbon emissions, a clean air benefit for everybody.


Security lapses at nuclear site found before break-in
Security problems at Y-12 nuclear complex were identified in classified reports nearly two years before three activists broke into the facility where weapons-grade uranium is stored.
( by Dana Priest , The Washington Post)

After the Japanese disaster, and the huge up front government subsidies to build nuclear power plants (way over the small PTC tax credits), and proven vulnerability of nuclear power plants,  why would we as a responsible nation even consider building more nuclear power plants? The cost to run them  per watt exceeds that of wind and solar. The volatile nature of Uranium, its storage and no ability to render it harmless, are an ever-present danger. In a nuclear plant disaster, the cost to bring it back on-line, if it could be repaired at all, is billions.

If you add into the equation the affects of climate change on hydro power,  wind and solar seem like an even better bet. Check the link below.

And, don’t get me started on fracking. What a dismal proposal that is. I hope you are listening Obama and Canada.



September 9, 2012

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.


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