Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Pay and Benefits for members of Congress
U.S. Congress salaries and benefits have been the source of taxpayer unhappiness and myths over the years. Here are some facts for your consideration.
The current salary (2009) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year.
Members are free to turn down pay increase and some choose to do so.
In a complex system of calculations, administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, congressional pay rates also affect the salaries for federal judges and other senior government executives.
During the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin considered proposing that elected government officials not be paid for their service.
Leaders of the House and Senate are paid a higher salary than rank-and-file members.
Majority Party Leader - $193,400
Minority Party Leader - $193,400
Speaker of the House - $223,500
Majority Leader - $193,400
Minority Leader - $193,400
A cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase takes effect annually unless Congress votes to not accept it.
Members of Congress receive retirement and health benefits under the same plans available to other federal employees. They become vested after five years of full participation.
Members elected since 1984 are covered by the Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS). Those elected prior to 1984 were covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). In 1984 all members were given the option of remaining with CSRS or switching to FERS.
As it is for all other federal employees, congressional retirement is funded through taxes and the participants' contributions. Members of Congress under FERS contribute 1.3 percent of their salary into the FERS retirement plan and pay 6.2 percent of their salary in Social Security taxes.
Members of Congress are not eligible for a pension until they reach the age of 50, but only if they've completed 20 years of service. Members are eligible at any age after completing 25 years of service or after they reach the age of 62. Please also note that Members of Congress have to serve at least 5 years to even receive a pension.
The amount of a congressperson's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of his or her salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
According to the Congressional Research Service, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of Oct. 1, 2006. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.
Members of Congress can choose from 11 different health care plans under FEHBP (Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan). All plans offer prescription drug benefits.
The government (meaning taxpayers like you and me) pays 72% of the average premium but not more than 75%. Your Congressman/Senator sees the remaining 25% deducted from his/her monthly paycheck (also paid for by you and me). This is similar to the amount the government pays under Medicare.
Among the 11 health plans, the federal employee share of monthly premiums ranges from a low of $55.58 per month to a high of $354.08 per month.