Retirement Brouhaha

Blogs, an online petition, and an email making the rounds claim that Senators and Congresswomen do not pay into Social Security and, of course, they do not collect from it” because they voted their own benefit plan into effect. “When they retire,” the email claims, “they continue to draw the same pay until they die. Except it may increase from time to time for cost of living adjustments…”

And, of course, it is free to them.


On the other hand, the email claims, we ordinary folk “would have to collect our average of $1,000 monthly benefits for 68 years and one (1) month to equal Senator Bill Bradley’s benefits!”

Wrong. Interesting but wrong.

It is simply not true that Congressmen do not pay into the Social Security fund. Public Law 98-21 of 1983 required Social Security coverage for federal civilian employees. They have paid into the fund since 1984 just as most every American employee does. That means, in addition to any other retirement benefits, they get Social Security, too! (There are exceptions. Congress Critters who had participated in CSRS could elect to stay in that plan in addition receiving Social Security or elect a plan that integrates CSRS and Social Security.)

The 2009 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year. Leaders of the House and Senate receive a higher salary than rank-and-file members.

It is also not true that Congress Critters “paid nothing in on any kind of retirement.” They must contribute 1.3% of their salary to the Federal Employees’ Retirement System and 6.2% in Social Security taxes up to the current $106,800 salary cap.

Snopes reports that “It is not true that Congressmen ‘continue to draw their same pay, until they die.'” Many factors go into the size of their pensions but “by law [that pension] cannot exceed 80% of their salary at the time of their retirement.”

Congress Critters are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service. The average annual Congressional pension is $60,972 in 2009 but the most a rank-and-file member could get is $139,200. Seems like it is in their best interests to stay in office until they die.

I understand why people want to join this club. I’m not sure I understand why we pay so much to put them there.

If I spent my life as a bum, why can’t I afford to retire now?