Study: Congressional Retirees Reap Huge Taxpayer-Funded Pensions

(Alexandria, VA) -- Thanks to a generous pension system, life after Congress can be a lot more lucrative: that's the conclusion of a study released today by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), a research group known for its detailed estimates on Congressional retirement benefits. A total of 38 former Senators and Representatives from the 108th Congress qualify for taxpayer-funded pensions, with former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) leading the pack at a projected $5 million lifetime payout.

"Even as most Americans face high taxes and other roadblocks to their own retirement, Members of Congress have paved a smooth path for their golden years," said NTUF President John Berthoud. "Too bad taxpayers are supplying most of the gold."

According to the study -- whose results were reported today in an Associated Press story -- 38 former House and Senate Members from the 108th Congress amassed sufficient service to qualify for a pension. Among the highlights:

  • Defeated South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle (D) is eligible for a pension of $121,233 this year, the highest amount among any studied. Assuming Daschle lives to the actuarially-projected age of 82.1 years and receives a 4 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) annually, his total lifetime pension amount could reach $5.077 million. Also high on the list was former House Member and Presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt (D-MO), with a 2005 pension of $102,330 and a projected lifetime payout of $3.091 million.
  • Three long-serving ex-lawmakers, Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC), and Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL), each qualify for a $114,102 pension in 2005. Among these three, however, Breaux would statistically be the likeliest to receive the largest total payment over the course of his life ($4.074 million).
  • Even Members of Congress with shorter tenures can look forward to significant pension packages. For example, former Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-WA), with 12 years of service, could collect as much as $1.011 million over her lifetime, while Chris John (D-LA), Nick Lampson (D-TX), and Max Sandlin (D-TX) could eventually receive over $500,000 apiece for serving eight years in the House.
  • Although lawmakers elected in 1984 and thereafter tend to be covered by a pension plan that is less generous than the one offered to their senior colleagues, they can make up for much of this difference due to a taxpayer-funded "match" of salary contributions in a "Thrift Savings Plan" that functions much like a private-sector 401(k) arrangement. By taking maximum advantage of this plan and its investment options, a lawmaker elected in 1990 could retire this year with Thrift Plan assets of more than $248,000.

Members of Congress are covered under the two major retirement systems that include most federal employees, but lawmakers enjoy better pension formulas and eligibility rules than rank-and-file workers (participation is voluntary). In addition, Congressional pensions are two to three times more generous than those offered to similarly-paid executives in the private sector; one reason is a yearly COLA that few businesses offer. Individual pension amounts for Members of Congress are not a matter of public record. However, NTUF utilizes data on lawmakers' service, eligibility, and life expectancies to provide the most accurate calculations of pensions possible.

NTUF is the non-partisan research arm of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union. Note: The full report on pensions for 108th Congress retirees is available at