Congressional pension is a pension made available to members of the United States Congress. Members who participated in the congressional pension system are vested after five (5) years of service. A full pension is available to Members 62 years of age with 5 years of service; 50 years or older with 20 years of service; or 25 years of service at any age. A reduced pension is available depending upon which of several different age/service options is chosen. If Members leave Congress before reaching retirement age, they may leave their contributions behind and receive a deferred pension later. The current pension program, effective January 1987, is under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which covers members and other federal employees whose federal employment began in 1984 or later. This replaces the older Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) for most members of congress and federal employees.
History of congressional pensions
Members of Congress voted to extend pension benefits to the legislative branch under the CSRS (formerly limited to the executive branch) in January 1942 under a provision of P.L. 77-411. Congress repealed their pension two months later, due to public outcry in the early months of America's involvement in World War II. It was not until after the war, in 1946, that Congress would be covered under the CSRS with the passage of P.L. 79-601. The justification this time was that a pension would "bring into the legislative service a larger number of younger members with fresh energy and new viewpoints" by encouraging older Members to retire.
The Social Security Amendments of 1983 required all Members of Congress to participate in Social Security beginning January 1, 1984. As Social Security and CSRS benefits sometimes overlapped, Congress called for the development of a new federal employee retirement program to complement Social Security. This new plan was enacted as the Federal Employees' Retirement Act of 1986. This act created the FERS program, under which new Members of Congress are currently covered.
When the FERS program went into effect, all Members elected in 1984 or later were automatically enrolled in the new plan. More senior Members were free to remain under the CSRS or enroll in the new FERS plan.
The amount of retirement income Members of Congress receive from taxpayers is determined by a formula that takes into account the years served and the average pay for the top three years in terms of payment. For example, a member elected before 1984 and thus qualifying under the CSRS plan, who worked for 22 years and who had a top three-year average salary of $154,267 would be eligible for a pension payment of $84,847 per year. A member elected after 1984 would have been enrolled under the FERS plan, and their pension payment under similar conditions ($154,267 top three-year average salary, but with only 20 years of service, rather than the 22 in the CSRS example) would be $52,451.
In 2002, the average pension payment ranged from $41,000 to $55,000. As of November 2014[update], senior Members of Congress who have been in office for at least 32 years can earn about $139,000 a year.
In 2003, after James Traficant was expelled from Congress, several Congressmen tried passing a bill that would prevent expelled members from receiving their pensions. The bill was stalled and eventually dropped after being sent to the House Administration and Reforms committee for review. In 2007, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act was enacted; this act provides that a member of Congress convicted of one or more of a list of enumerated felonies (those relating to corruption, election crimes, or official misconduct) will forfeit his or her pension.
Refusal to participate
Former congressman Ron Paul refused to participate in the congressional pension system, labeling it "immoral." North Carolina congressman Howard Coble did not participate in the pension system, either. He campaigned against the system in his first campaign in 1984.
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