Among the things included in the "Wouldn't it be nice if . . . ." file is this bit of wishful thinking:
"Wouldn't it be nice if . . . I could decide how much to pay myself . . . and, oh yeah, throw in a real hefty pension, too."If you're a member of Congress, though, that's the reality, not a fantasy, perhaps another sign of the world in which Congress operates.
The pay raise that goes into effect in January, boosting salary from $96,600 to $125,000 annually for a member of the House, not only fattens their wallets but adds feathering to the retirement nests of current and former representatives.
Under a system devised by Congress (no surprise there), pay raises to incumbent representatives are also added onto the already generous pensions of retired members. So are cost of living adjustments (COLAs).
The result is a pension more lucrative by far than anything the private sector offers, up to 80 percent more for an equal period of service and salary, according to analysts.
Let's look at an example. Rep. Roy Dyson, 42, a Maryland Democrat unseated by voters this month after 10 years in the House, is eligible for a $26,355 annual pension when he turns 60. That is based on his 10 years as a congressman and 11 years as a congressional aid. The pension will be boosted annually by a COLA.
A former congressman, Hastings Keith says he's getting more than he needs and more than he deserves, and it's increasing every year. Keith, now head of the private, non-profit National Committee on Public Employees Pension Systems, currently receives over $90,000 a year in federal pension payments. The amount increases by an additional $100 a week come Jan. 1, not because of anything he's done but based on the pay raise Congress voted for itself.
Keith's pension started at $18,720 a year in 1972 and has skyrocketed, with COLAs and increases, until it's now $90,000 and still growing.
It's conceivable, according to the analysts, that a retired congressman over an average lifetime will receive millions in pension benefits.
Is there any hope of changing this? It's unlikely. It seems to be another entry in the "Wouldn't it be nice if . . . ." file, namely, "Wouldn't it be nice if . . . congressmen had to be frugal like the rest of us."