Approval ratings for Congress are at a historic low, and our members often ask us what sort of benefits legislators enjoy.
The following information isn't presented to defend Congressional perks, but only to dispel some myths that perpetually float around the internet. If we're to have credibility defending military programs, we need to have our facts right.
Fact or Fiction:
1) Members of Congress get full pensions for life after serving just one term.
Mostly Fiction. The Congressional retirement system is very similar to that of federal civilians. It's true that a member of Congress can become eligible for retirement benefits after a minimum of 5 years of service if they're age 62 or older, but only for a partial pension.
To qualify for a pension a member of Congress must meet one of the following service and age requirements:
5 years of service and age 62
20 years of service and age 50
25 years of service at any age
Like the military retirement system, Congressional retirement pay is calculated on a combination of their average high-three years of salary and a multiplier based on their length of service.
It's also worth pointing out that members of Congress contribute to their own retirement and pay Social Security taxes. Once retired their Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) are sometimes held artificially below the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which measures inflation.
Since the Congressional retirement system was overhauled in 1984 (to be less generous) the average annual pension is roughly $40,000.
2) Members of Congress don’t pay for their healthcare.
Fiction. Members of Congress and their staffs are eligible for the same health insurance as federal civilians, and they pay the same premiums. They can enroll in any insurance program offered under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).
One of the most popular plans under FEHBP (the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard plan) costs beneficiaries $430 a month for a family, and $185 a month for individual coverage.
Starting in 2014, members of Congress and their staffs will be required to participate in the health care exchanges created under national health care reform.
3) Legislators receive free health care at military facilities such as Walter Reed.
Fiction. Members of Congress can receive care at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but the cost of such care is billed to their federal insurance.
4) Congress votes themselves pay increases every year.
Mostly Fiction. The law authorizes Congress a raise every year unless legislators vote to stop it.
Congress voted to forgo a pay raise in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Congressional pay increases are capped lower than the military raise. While military raises are tied to the average American's (the Employment Cost Index), congressional raises are capped one-half percentage point below that.