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July 10, 2020

5/29/2020 8:58:00 AM
Senate Pensions

Dear Editor:
Recently, Mr. Alan Jewell stated the rumor about Congresspersons keeping full pay forever after serving only one term. This is often repeated with other "truths" that aren't true so let's count them down in the hit parade:
11) The staffers of Congress family members are exempt from having to pay back student loans." The web site Politifact says "We gave the statement a rating of Pants on Fire because it was (and is) ridiculously false. Relatives of members of Congress and Congressional staffers have to pay back their loans like everyone else.
22) Then of course the "fact" about pensions after one term. Mr. Jewell repeats the common statement that, members of Congress can "retire with the same pay after only one term."
The historians at say it has been circulating in various chain emails since at least 2000. This FALSE claim means that rank-and-file members of the House of Representatives would receive full pay of $174,000 per year, for the rest of their lives, after serving as little as two years. Nice work if you can get it.
But members of Congress can't.
The facts from "Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress," prepared in November by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, outlines how pension benefits are calculated.
a) No member of Congress is eligible for any pension unless he or she has served in Congress for at least five years. (Senators serve six-year terms; House members must seek reelection every two years. If they aren't reelected TWICE they are not eligible for any pension)
b) To collect, a Congressman or Senator must be age 62, or be at least age 50 with 20 years of service, or be any age with 25 years of service.
c) Under the most recent pension program, adopted in 1984, the size of a pension is based on the highest three years of a member's salary, the number of years of service and a multiplier, which is 1.7 percent for the first 20 years of service and 1.0 percent for subsequent years.
Here's an example, using a typical 25-year rank-and-file member who retired this year. The pension would be the sum of two calculations. First, multiply $172,443 [the average salary over the last three years] times 20 years times 0.017. Then, multiply $172,443 times 5 years times 0.01 and add that number to the first calculation. The total: about $67,250 per year. That's for 25 YEARS OF SERVICE.
A three-term congressman (or one-term senator) who has now reached retirement age would be eligible for an annual pension of $17,588 for six years of work. That's generous, but not close to full pay.
d) Federal law prevents members of Congress from getting full-pay retirement when they leave office. The report says, "By law, the starting amount of a member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80 percent of his or her final salary." Under the formula, it would take 67 years of service to hit that limit.
33) Finally, there's the claim that members of Congress don't pay into their Social Security (they have since 1984) or that they don't contribute anything toward their retirement (they do).
More on that another day.

John P. Curran
Dodgeville, WI

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