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Congressional Pensions vs. Social Security

Netlore Archive: Is it true that members of Congress don't pay into Social Security, receiving lavish pensions at taxpayer expense instead?

Description: Email rumor
Circulating since: April 2000
Status: False

Email text contributed by Michele C., April 19, 2000:

Our Senators and Congressmen don't pay in to Social Security, and, of course, they don't collect from it.

The reason is that they have a special retirement plan that they voted for themselves many years ago. For all practical purposes, it works like this:

When they retire, they continue to draw their same pay, until they die, except that it may be increased from time to time, by cost of living adjustments.

For instance, former Senator Bradley, and his wife, may be expected to draw $7,900,000, with Mrs. Bradley drawing $275,000 during the last year of her life.

This is calculated on an average life span for each.

This would be well and good, except that they paid nothing in on any kind of retirement, and neither does any other Senator or Congressman.

This fine retirement comes right out of the General Fund: our tax money.

While we who pay for it all, draw an average of $1000/month from Social Security.

Imagine for a moment that you could structure a retirement plan so desirable that people would have extra deducted so that they could increase their own personal retirement income.

A retirement plan that works so well, that Railroad employees, Postal Workers, and others who aren't in it, would clamor to get in. That is how good Social Security could be, if only one small change were made.

That change is to jerk the Golden Fleece retirement out from under the Senators and Congressmen, and put them in Social Security with the rest of us. Then watch how fast they fix it.

If enough people receive this, maybe one or some of them along the way, might be able to help. How many can YOU send it to?

Analysis: It's true that members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives enjoy a relatively generous government pension plan — some say too generous — but this email rant offers very little else in the way of accuracy.

Under a law enacted in 1983, all members of Congress both contribute to and receive benefits from the Social Security system. Upon retirement, members receive either a combination of federal pension and Social Security benefits or Social Security alone, depending upon when their term of service started and how they configured their individual plan.

Members elected after 1983 pay into the Federal Employees Retirement System. Members elected before 1983 participate in the older Civil Service Retirement Program. In both cases, members of Congress contribute to the plans at a slightly higher rate than ordinary federal employees.

As of 2002 (updated figures here), 411 retired members were receiving benefits under CSRS at an average rate of $55,788 per year and 71 were receiving benefits under FERS (or a combination of CSRS and FERS) with $41,856 per year in average benefits. Members do not automatically received lifetime pensions. How much they receive and how long they receive it depends on many factors, including age, length of service (including military) and choice of plans, etc. So, while it's conceivable that a few may receive pay-outs totalling more than a million dollars by the time they die, they would be the exception, not the rule.

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Sources and further reading:

U.S. Congress Salaries and Benefits
About.com: U.S. Government Info

Capitol Questions: Congressional Pensions
From C-SPAN, Congressional pensions and Social Security made simple

Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress
Congressional Research Service, 26 September 2002

Is It True that Members of Congress Do Not Pay into Social Security?
U.S. Senate Virtual Reference Desk

Social Security Reform Center
Up-to-date information on reform proposals and legislation

Last updated: 03/17/10

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