Group Blasts Lawmakers' Pensions but Many Ex-Congressmen Say They Have Earned It
Fred W. Lindecke Missouri Political Correspondent, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
The National Taxpayers Union Foundation has criticized congressional pensions as excessive, but most retired members of Congress from the St. Louis area believe they earned their pensions.
Only two agree that congressional pensions should be reduced. They are former Reps. Paul Findley, R-Pittsfield, Ill., who lost in 1982 to Rep. Richard J. Durbin, D-Springfield, and George Shipley, D-Olney, Ill., who retired in 1978 and became a fisherman in the Florida Keys.
Former Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., who just retired with a pension of $53,000 a year, said congressional pensions should be reduced - but only as part of a general tightening of federal entitlements.
None of the St. Louis area pensioners is drawing the kind of money that has attracted negative attention. The lead lightning rod is former House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., who gets about $124,000 a year since his defeat last year after 32 years in the House.
An exception in the St. Louis area is former Rep. William L. Hungate, D-Troy, Mo., who is collecting a federal pension of $143,000. He gets $125,000 of that as a former federal judge.
Former Sen. Alan Dixon, D-Ill., expressed the viewpoint of most former congressmen here when he said: "I paid in my share, I earned them, and I draw them." He gets about $64,000 a year in federal and state pensions. More Than Private Pensions? Or Less?
The amount each former congressman draws is a private matter. A spokeswoman for the federal Office of Personnel Management said privacy laws cover the pensions of all federal employees.
But when asked how much pension they were receiving, former House members from eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois, as well as former senators from both states, provided the information.
Former Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill., 75, runs a Washington consulting firm that helps U.S. companies export goods and services.
He said he has read stories about how high congressional pensions are, and he would like to know how the pensions of more recent retirees got to be so much higher than his own.
"Who do you talk to about these things?" he asked. He had 18 years in the Senate when Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., defeated him in 1984. Percy said he'd withhold judgment on congressional pensions until he could compare them to the private sector.
The National Taxpayers Union Foundation has done just that. David Keating, the foundation's president, said congressional pensions "are typically two to three times more generous than those in the private sector and even more generous than pensions for federal workers."
Cost-of-living adjustments and the 1991 congressional pay increase, to $133,600 a year for senators and representatives, have driven up pension benefits, Keating said.
Their pensions are figured on 2.5 percent of the average of the three highest years of salary, multiplied by the number of years of service. Congressmen contribute up to 8 percent of their salary to their pension, but this covers only about 20 percent of the cost, Keating said.
The Civil Service Retirement System, which includes congressional pensions, has an unfunded liability of more than $500 billion that taxpayers must pay, Keating said. Move To Cut Pensions
Two members of Congress have bills pending that would reduce congressional pensions by bringing them in line with those in private industry. The sponsors are Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., and Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla.
The National Taxpayer Union Foundation estimates that St. Louis area congressmen would receive the following annual pensions if they retired now:
Richard A. Gephardt, D-south St. Louis County, $56,000; William L. Clay, D-St. Louis, $78,000; Harold L. Volkmer, D-Hannibal, $60,000, and Simon, $73,000.
Findley, 73, writes books and articles and lives in Jacksonville, Ill. He called congressional pensions "absurdly high. …