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No Congressional Pensions for Felons
November 28, 2006
Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid:
On behalf of the millions of taxpayers represented by the groups listed below, we urge you to make Congressional pension reform a priority at the start of the 110th Congress. To restore faith in accountable government, we must end the practice of rewarding lawmakers who abuse the law with plush pension packages funded by the American taxpayer. We would applaud your addressing this long-overlooked issue.
As you know, Congress has constituted a retirement system for itself that includes pension and 401(k)-style plans, whose payments are far more generous than what similarly-paid workers in the private sector typically receive. Furthermore, American taxpayers directly subsidize retired lawmakers' benefit payouts at rates of between 50 and 80 percent (without even including the contributions Members of Congress make from the salaries funded by taxpayers).
Since the early 1960s, only a conviction of a crime such as treason or espionage has constituted grounds for forfeiture of a Congressional pension, leaving more than 20 lawmakers who have committed other serious offenses to continue drawing benefits. The most recent example of this insult to taxpaying Americans involves Representative Robert Ney, who could qualify for a full deferred pension of roughly $29,000 during his first eligible year of retirement, along with substantial investment assets. Historically, however, the problem has been bipartisan. Democratic Congressman James Traficant, who was expelled in 2002, could be receiving an inflation-adjusted benefit of nearly $40,000, while Representative Daniel Rostenkowski's potential pension, including cost of living adjustments, could exceed $125,000 this year. While the desire to "close ranks" in support of perks may be strong, giving Congressional pensions to felons does not pass the "smell test" with most citizens outside the Beltway.
Many would argue that Congressional service is a civic honor and is therefore not an appropriate position for receiving a career-style pension. Lawmakers should overhaul the entire Congressional pension system to bring it in line with economic and fiscal reality. Until that time, we hope you will lend your support as Leaders to immediately enact legislation that will automatically deny taxpayer-funded retirement benefits to a Representative or Senator convicted of any felony, during or after Congressional service.