Magazine article Insight on the News

Let Clinton Veto Congress' Pension Grab

Magazine article Insight on the News

Let Clinton Veto Congress' Pension Grab

Article excerpt

Forget about the congressional pay raise. It's peanuts. Our hardworking federal lawmakers will get a salary increase of only $3,073 under a bill snuck through the Boors of both houses of Congress without a peep. They will get at least $9,300 per year in increased pension value.

Sorry you missed the big news about the pensions, because the media mostly did too. That is because members of Congress are smarter than their overseers in the news business when it comes to something they really care about. When I was in charge of the massive federal -- benefits system, I was selling pension reform to those who received the most generous benefits -- the ones on Capitol Hill. When I read a news quote from a House member opposing the proposed pay raise, some conservative congressman seemed amenable to the cause. After a few sentences into our pitch, he held up his arm: "Wait a minute; being against the pay raise is one thing. The pension is an entirely different matter. Don't mess with it; that is how we really get paid around here."

Nothing much changes in Congress, even after the presumed Republican revolution in 1994. It took less than three years to return to same old, same old. It all happened in classic congressional style. Late at night, as usual, Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens slunk into the Treasury -- Postal appropriations -- bill conference a provision that had appeared in neither this House nor the Senate -- despite the small point that the reason for a conference is to resolve differences in House and Senate bills. Nor did Stevens abide by an earlier pledge to stop authorizing provisions on appropriations bills under his tenure as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The law allowed members of Congress, their staff and 1.1 million civil servants covered by the older Civil Service Retirement System, or CSRS, to transfer into the newer Federal Employees Retirement System, or FERS. They were allowed to transfer earlier, but the new twist is to allow the transfer after one is eligible for maximum benefits under the old system. So, once a member of Congress or its staff accrued optimal benefits, one could transfer to the new FERS system.

Since the departing salary level keeps increasing, the member in effect keeps all the benefits of the older plan and the government will match any contributions to their version of a 401(k) pension plan in the new one. Since the average congressman contributes 5 percent now without a match, he would get a free 5 percent government contribution worth $6,833. …

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