Congress Gets Lavish Benefits While Advocating Deep Cuts to Federal Worker Retirement, CompensationTuesday, September 13, 2011
(National Federation of Federal Employees)
It has been the subject of countless discussions online, in the media, and around the water coolers at federal workplace throughout the nation: Do members of Congress get a better deal than federal employees? Well today, we have an answer to that question, and that answer is yes.
According to a very well done article by Stephen Losey at the Federal Times, members of Congress not only receive better benefits, but they get them faster and often cheaper than their counterparts in the rank-and-file.
The daylight between lawmakers’ benefits and our own is most apparent when comparing health benefits. Like rank-and-file federal employees, members of Congress are eligible to participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP). However, according to Losey, lawmakers are also eligible to receive primary care from the U.S. Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician for an annual fee of just $503 dollars. Considering congressional salaries start at $174,000 per year, this taxpayer-subsidized health discount lawmakers give to themselves is not just unfair, it is completely unnecessary.
The way that federal retirement annuities are calculated represents another glaring difference between Congress and the rest of us. Under FERS, lawmakers’ pension accrues at 1.7 percent per year for their first 20 years of service, compared to just 1% or 1.1% for the rank-and-file. Under CSRS their pensions accrue at a rate of 2.5% per annum compared to 1.5%-2%. The results of this disparity are clear: the average annuities for FERS and CSRS lawmakers were $40,140 and $69,012 per year, where they were a mere $12,780 and $30,500 for federal employees, respectively. Though the large difference in salary is certainly a factor, this only supports the notion that Congress should not be receiving cushier benefits than already underpaid rank-and-file federal employees.
This difference should come as no surprise, of course. Congress has the power to make the rules, and given their track record on good-government policymaking, it is more or less par for the course. The most absurd part of this story, however, is that many of these same politicians have been advocating legislation to cut back on federal benefits, water down federal retirement, and eliminate the FEHB as we know it.
This is not to say that all Congressional benefits are better. In the interest of fairness, members of Congress do get the same deal as everyone else on their Thrift Savings Plan; but with a $174,000 annual salary, we wouldn’t guess that they’re feeling much of a pinch.