Here's the thing about those occupants of the White House, the Capitol complex, and all other elected taxpayer-paid tenants of taxpayer-built edifices all across the country. Once they're in office they tend to forget their place on the organizational chart, so here's a reminder:
We, the people, are on top. We are the employers and they are the employees. We pay their wages and their benefits, give them cushy offices and take care of their every need. We pay it all, knowing that to do so is, ipso facto, giving them serious control over our lives.
|Freshman members of the 112th Congress pose for a class photo on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.|
(Photo by: Jeff Malet. Photography/Newscom)
In Congress, if the electeds are still employed by us after five years in office, we are required to pay every solitary cent that goes into their retirements. Consider that: They only have to work for us for five years to get a guaranteed lifetime retirement based on an average of the best three years of employment. That means a House member would have to be re-elected twice to qualify, but a first-timer serving a full six-year term in the Senate will thereafter be eligible for retirement at our expense until death or until the coffers run bone-dry, whichever comes first.
There's no chance that their employers -- that's us -- can arbitrarily decide that we don't feel like paying it anymore. We can't say we want more of our money to go to us and not to them. When it comes to shared sacrifice, we seem to have exempted them. We're locked in. We will pay their retirements, no matter what we might have to let slide in order to do it.
This one crucial fact sometimes gets forgotten in the day to day back-and-forth about whether or not our elected officials are doing their jobs in a way that the majority of the employers -- that's us -- will find acceptable: They don't have to do their jobs well. Once they're in, they're in. We can't fire them for laziness, carelessness or insubordination. There's no such thing as chronic tardiness or too many sick days. They can even vote to strip jobs and take away retirements from the very people who have put them in office, all the while knowing they're safe from the same kind of unfair action. Once they're there, sitting comfortably in their catbird seats, they can, in fact, make and/or enforce laws that will actually damage and/or destroy a good segment of the very people who pay their way
It's as if they have the best damned labor union in the country (that's us) looking out for them. Ironic, isn't it, considering how little use most of them have for labor representation?
Under both CSRS [Civil Service Retirement System] and FERS [Federal Employees Retirement System], Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.Like most of us, they now pay into Social Security and will be eligible to collect on it after age 62 -- unless that changes, too. (The young'uns might want to remember that before they get too hasty about killing it.)
As of October 1, 2006, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.
Today regular members of the House and Senate each make $174,000 per year, with additional funding going toward staff and office wages, travel and other incidentals. (The leaders, of course, make more.) Their staffers can make almost as much as they do, and they're entitled to anywhere from 20 to 60 support staffers. We pay to keep all of them working.
- Representatives' staff allowances can be used to hire up to 18 permanent and four non-permanent aides divided between the members' Washington and district offices. Up to $75,000 of a representative's staff funds can be transferred to his or her official expense account for use in other categories, such as computer and related services. The maximum salary allowed House personal staffers in 2005 was $156,848 (2001: $140,451)..
- Senators' personal staff allowances vary with the
size of the members' states. Senators may hire as many aides as
they wish within their allowance; typically this ranges between 26
and 60, depending on the size of the state and the salary levels
offered to the staffers.
- The maximum salary allowed to Senate personal staffers in 2003 was $150,159 (1999: $132,159); for Senate legislative staffers the maximum salary in 2005 was $153,599.
As employers go, we're really lousy at this. Knowing how committed we're going to have to be toward ensuring a lifetime of benefits to our electeds, we really ought to do a better job of hiring them in the first place. It's not like we haven't studied their resumes. It's not like we’ve neglected the interview process. It costs us millions of dollars and requires a multitude of days bringing us interminable boot-licking, back-slapping, chest-thumping speeches to get us to the point of hiring these people.
Could we just try and remember these four magic words before we give any of them the honor of a job with lifetime benefits?
For the common good.