In June, Senators Mark Kirk, R-IL and Richard Blumenthal, D-CT introduced legislation aimed at eliminating Congressional pensions for members convicted of a felony while serving in their official capacity as a duly elected member of Congress.
S 1261, the “Integrity and Pension Forfeiture Act of 2011” would expand the existing law that allows former members to keep their pensions if they commit public corruption crimes in another elected office. Kirk said that expanding the current law will block pension benefits for members who “fail to honor their pledge to defend the Constitution and upon the laws of the United States.” Blumenthal added that “this legislation will close loopholes in existing federal law and help ensure that officials think twice before committing unlawful acts that betray their constituents and violate the public trust.”
Kirk’s bill was assigned to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on June 22nd. Obviously, this is not a priority for the Senate.
In truth, S1261 is just another placebo to placate the masses.
Federal pensions date to the Civil Service Retirement Act of 1920 but members of Congress weren’t added to the pension system until 1942. Today, any member of Congress who has served at least 5 years is fully vested in his/her federal pension and after retirement at age 62 can receive a full pension benefit. Those members who have served at least 20 years can retire at age 50 with a full pension. The pension is only part of the congressional nest egg. In 1984, members of Congress started paying into Social Security, and participating in a federal 401(k) style investment program called the Thrift Savings Plan in which they can make pretax salary contributions. For those participating in the Federal Employees’ Retirement System, the government will match their contributions up to 5%. Lawmakers can also take advantage of the same health care programs as other federal employees and get extra V.I.P. perks such as treatment at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
According to a 2011 Congressional Research Service report, 455 retired members of Congress were getting benefits as of October 1, 2009. 275 members who retired under the old pension system receive annual benefits of $69,012 and those retiring under the new retirement system receive pensions of $40,140. Any modification of the current Social Security system would more than likely cut into the benefits of retirees under the new retirement system, which goes a long way toward explaining why there is little interest in any Social Security reforms.
Most members of Congress were independently wealthy when they were elected or became independently wealthy through backdoor scams that would send the average taxpayer to jail. It is sort of hard to image that on top of their personal wealth and a yearly salary of $174,000 they would need a federal pension.
Our Founding Fathers envisioned a “Citizen Legislature” to retain control of the government “by the people”, not control of the people by the government! Our elected representatives were expected to serve their time honorably and then go home. It was only after the government became power hungry in the 20th Century that politicans began to make a career out of “public service.”
Rep. Tim Griffith , R-Ark introduced HR 3480 in November, with 13 Republican cosponsors, to dump Congressional pensions for future elected officials. Rep. Mike Coffman introduced HR 2913 in September with 15 Republican cosponsors, that would totally eliminate Congressional pensions. I personally opt for HR 2913.
Need a good reason for dumping federal pensions? According to the National Taxpayer’s Union there are 16 former members of Congress convicted of serious crimes who are still eligible for pensions with a combined value just shy of $1 million a year.
- Rep. John Murphy, D-NY, was convicted of conspiracy, and accepting unlawful gratuity in 1980 – will receive $88,688.
- Rep. Frederick Richmond D-NY, convicted of tax evasion and drug possession in 1982 – will receive a pension of $33,131.
- Rep Mario Biaggi, D-NY, convicted of bribery in the Wedtech scandal in 1988 – will receive $67,277.
- Rep Albert Bustamante, D-TX, convicted of racketeering and accepting bribes in 1993 – will receive $18,803.
- Sen. David Durenberger, R-MN, convicted of misuse of Senate funds in 1995 – will receive $96,575.
- Rep Larry Smith, D-FL, convicted of tax evasion and filing false campaign forms in 1995 – will receive $33,738.
- Rep Carl Perkins, D-KY, convicted of bank fraud and filing false campaign forms in 1994 – will receive $14,500.
- Rep Carroll Hubbard, D-KY, convicted of campaign finance violations, and theft of U.S. property and obstructing justice – will get $72,964.
- Rep Walter Fauntroy, D-DC, convicted of false financial disclosure in 1995 – will get $62,192.
- Rep Joseph Kolter, D-PA, convicted of conspiracy in the congressional post office scandal in 1996 – will get $53,449.
- Rep Mary Rose Oakar, D-OH, convicted of campaign finance violations in 1997 – will get $61,432.
- Rep Austin Murphy, D-PA, convicted of voter fraud in 1999 – will get $87,832.
- Rep James Traficant, D-OH, convicted of ten corruption charges in 2002 – will get $44,992.
- Rep John Rowland, R-CN, convicted of “Honest Services Fraud as governor of Conn. in 2004 – will get $8,400.
- Rep. Randall , R-CA, convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and tax evasion in 2005 – will get $71,519.
- Rep Bob Ney, R-OH, convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery and making false statements in 2006 – will get $20,062.
There are those deceased officials like Rep. Daniel Rostenkowski, D-IL, who was convicted of mail fraud in 1994 and continued to received a pension of $120,000 until his death in August 2010. Members with cases still pending like Rep. William Jefferson, D-LA, whose bribery and money-laundering conviction is being appealed and Sen. John Ensign, R-NV, whose ethics case has been referred to the Justice department, are still eligible for their pensions. And, let’s not forget disgraced former representatives like Anthony Weiner, D-NY and David Wu, D-OR who resigned earlier this year amid embarrassing sex related scandals but were not charged with any crime. Then there is Rep. Rick Renzi, R-AZ who was indicted in 2008 on charges that included extortion, and wire fraud money laundering whose case has not come to trial. S1261, The Integrity and Pension Forfeiture Act of 2011 would also not curb the $100,000 a year collected by former Republican Idaho Senator Larry Craig, who was charged with lewd conduct after soliciting sex in an airport restroom. Senator Craig plead guilty in 2007 to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct.
Rep. David Schweikert, R-AZ said that he “believes in this concept that you come, you serve for a while, and then you go home. Maybe not having a pension system would help encourage that.”
We elect our representatives to look out for us – not to amass a fortune at our expense. Our elitist leaders should be forced to live under the same laws that they pass for the “little people.” Then, we could put the crooks in prison where they belong.