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January 9, 2013
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Guest column: Government could save money by trimming congressional benefits

In 2011, U.S. senators make $174,000 per year. Senators kind of get to set their own salary. Since 1989, raises for senators have been set in accordance with the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, which provides for a raise based on the change in private sector wages and cost of living index. What employee of any business you know of gets to set his/her own salary?

I have worked ever since I was 16 and then when I graduated from high school in 1964, I joined the U.S. Navy and spent 20 years drawing a meager wage.

As a matter of fact when I was an E-6 and married with six children, my family qualified for welfare. We didn’t take it. My wife worked part time and I also got a part-time job while in port in San Diego.

When I spent six to eight months away from my family and worked a minimum of 12 hours a day, my pay didn’t go up and I didn’t draw overtime. I got paid the same no matter how many hours I had to work each day.

When you look at a whopping 1.7 percent pay raise of an enlisted military person’s pay, that is chump change — especially when you consider how much the increase of 1.7 percent of $174,000 that a newly elected senator receives per year.

I can guarantee they aren’t being shot at or even being kept away from their families. Most all of the elected members of Congress or the House of Representatives work no more than actual part time over a year’s period. It is really bad when votes are taken in either of the houses, and the representatives/congressmen aren’t even present to vote.

Congressmen elected in 1984 or after can only take the Federal Employee Retirement System plan, but it’s another option for those elected before 1984. FERS is still very generous and provides a full pension to Congressmen aged 62 or older, or taken at age 50 with at least 20 years of congressional experience.

But you can take the full pension at any age after 25 years of congressional experience. An immediate, reduced pension is also available to those aged 55 if born before 1948 with 10 years’ congressional experience. Deferred pensions are also available at age 62 with five years of congressional experience.

A deferred and reduced pension at ages 55 to 57 requires 10 years of congressional experience.

The average annual pension of retired members of Congress ranged between $2,996 and $5,081 per month as of 2006, according to the Congressional Research Service. If a Congressman is in office for 20 years, then the retirement is 80 percent of their highest salary. Benefits are also subject to cost of living adjustments.

The National Taxpayers Union claims these benefits are two to three times more generous than a private company executive at the same salary level. This does not include the Social Security they receive together with the FERS retirement.

Cost Sharing

According to the Congressional Research Service, all members of Congress pay Social Security taxes equal to 6.2 percent of their taxable wage base. Those lawmakers elected before 1984 also pay 1.8 percent of their salaries into the pension plan, while those elected in 1984 or later pay 1.3 percent.

Taxpayers are picking up the remaining 0.5 percent. The National Taxpayers Union asserts that each lawmaker pays about 20 percent of the typical lifetime benefit, while taxpayers cover the remaining 80 percent.

We don’t hear about how much the senators and representatives or any other elected federal government officials are going to give up to help with the budget. Just think how much could be saved if the president and his wife and children had to pay for all their travel that isn’t considered government business travel.

How much did it cost the taxpayers to fly the president all over the United States telling people what he is going to do for the United States when re-elected?

What it cost to fly Air Force One for the six months prior to his re-election probably would have fed all the out-of-work and homeless people in the U.S. for the whole year, even if some of the travel was paid for by campaign organizations. Also, when he goes on vacation we pay for Air Force One to take him and the family to Hawaii. In 1990, that cost $1.5 million and prices have gone up since.

Isn’t it time to make cuts where we really need to and pay these elected officials what they actually deserve? Should we continue these extreme retirements or let them pay into a 401K just like the private companies due and only match up to 6 percent of what they put in.

Oh, by the way, when they draw from the 401K they will also pay taxes on that money just like everyone else does.

Henry Saber, a Canyonville resident since 2009, retired from the U.S. Navy as a chief operations specialist after 20 years of service. He can be reached at hsaber@frontiernet.net.

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The News-Review Updated Jan 9, 2013 09:34AM Published Jan 9, 2013 09:34AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.