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Former Members Get Millions From Pensions

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Rep. Howard Coble, who offered legislation to scale back Congressional pensions in the 1990s, said trying again now would be “an exercise in futility.”

“Those were not my most brilliant financial decisions, I might admit,” Coble said, stating that the decision to decline a pension will prevent him from being able to continue his health care coverage when he retires. “But I felt like the taxpayers are paying my salary, and I don’t know that they need to contribute to the pension.”

Under the FERS — which covers all federal employees — Congress, as the “employer,” and Members each contribute funds to the pension plan.

According to the CRS, in 2011, Members covered by the FERS will contribute 1.3 percent of their salaries to the pension program, and Congress will pay another 17.9 percent of salary costs. Members also pay another 6.2 percent of their earnings to Social Security.

Members may also contribute up to $16,500 in pre-tax dollars to their TSP accounts in 2011, and they may receive up to 5 percent in matching funds from their “employer.” Each Member receives 1 percent in matching contributions from Congress, regardless of whether they contribute.

Members elected before 1984 may participate in a different pension plan: the Civil Service Retirement System.

Each retirement plan requires Members to remain in Congress for five years before they are eligible to receive a benefit at retirement age. Both plans allow Members to take full retirement at 62, but ex-lawmakers may qualify for a full or reduced pension as young as 50 depending on their length of service.

As of October 2009, of the 455 former Members drawing federal pensions, 275 retired under the CSRS and received an average income of $69,000, while another 180 retired under both programs or the FERS alone and received an average pension of $40,000, according to the CRS.

A Roll Call review of Members who left Congress during or after the 111th Congress found more than three dozen lawmakers who could immediately begin to draw their full pensions and more than a dozen others who could potentially draw a reduced pension at an earlier age.

There is no public data on actual pensions paid to individual ex-Members, although payments are sometimes made visible when lawmakers are elected to state offices and are required to disclose personal financial data.

Former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), now the governor of Hawaii, reported in January that he draws a federal pension for his service in Congress that paid $25,000 to $50,000 in 2010. Abercrombie resigned in February 2010 and was sworn into the governor’s office in December.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in November that former Rep. and now-Gov. Nathan Deal (R) of Georgia will receive a Congressional pension of $52,000.

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