Civil Discourse Now

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Do members of Congress who criticize "entitlements" turn down their health insurance and retirement packages?

   We do not have a "two-party" system of government in the United States. We have a system in which powerful interests front their actions by and through office holders who claim membership in one of two organizations. Usually one of those organizations---or "parties"---is characterized as dysfunctional and near its expiration date. Today the Republicans bear those characterizations. A few years ago, the Democratic Party was on life support. When a supposedly left-of-center president pushes through a health care package advocated by Newt Gingrich two decades ago, and adopted by Massachusetts through the efforts of its governor, Mitt Romney, ten years or so ago---the hallmarks of which are required purchase of health insurance from private insurance companies---one has to question how people judge "left-of-center." The same president uses drones and still has U.S. troops in Afghanistan and on Cuba at "Gitmo."

   But I digress.

   When one speaks today of "entitlements," usually the context is pejorative. Only the "47 percent" feel "entitled" to such things as food, housing, and health care. Overlooked is how people who depend upon "entitlements" have worked and paid for Social Security, Medicare, and other programs that fall under the "entitlement" umbrella. (I hope that metaphor has not been trademarked by Travelers Insurance.)

   According to a government website about Congressional benefits, members of Congress become fully vested in retirement and health benefits after five full years of participation in those plans. That means someone elected to the United States Senate automatically---if she or he serves out the entire first term---will be fully vested as a result of election. A member of the House would need to be elected, then re-elected twice. "The amount of a congressperson's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of his or her salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary." The 2006 annual salary of a member of Congress was $165,200. You may do the math.  That does not mean each member of Congress receives  a pension of 80 percent time $165K.  Other factors determine the amount of pension drawn by a retired member, including total serice time in Congress. The average pension drawn by a member of Congress is around $70K.  

   Tomorrow I will write about the health insurance benefits received by members of Congress and their families. Right now, I think a pension at the size retired members of Congress enjoy is not too shabby. How many---on either side of the aisle---view the pension as a mere "entitlement"?    

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