$5 Million Pension for Daschle?

Published March 1, 2005

Thirty-eight former senators and representatives from the 108th Congress qualify for taxpayer-funded pensions, with former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) leading the pack at a projected lifetime payout of more than $5 million, according to a study released January 6 by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF).

“Even as most Americans face high taxes and other roadblocks to their own retirement, members of Congress have paved a smooth path for their golden years,” said NTUF President John Berthoud. “Too bad taxpayers are supplying most of the gold.”

Huge Amounts Due

Among the findings of “Study: Congressional Retirees Reap Huge Taxpayer-Funded Pensions”:

  • Daschle is eligible to start drawing a pension of $121,233 this year, the highest amount among those studied. Assuming Daschle lives to the actuarially projected age of 82.1 years and receives a 4 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) annually, his total lifetime pension amount could reach $5.077 million.
  • Also high on the list was former House member and presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt (D-MO), with a 2005 pension of $102,330 and a projected lifetime payout of $3.091 million.
  • Three long-serving ex-lawmakers, Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC), and Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL), each qualify for a $114,102 pension in 2005. Among these three, Breaux would be likely to receive the largest total payment over the course of his life: a projected $4.074 million.
  • Even members of Congress with shorter tenures can look forward to significant pension packages. For example, former Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-WA), with 12 years of service, could collect as much as $1.011 million over her lifetime, while Reps. Chris John (D-LA), Nick Lampson (D-TX), and Max Sandlin (D-TX) could eventually receive more than $500,000 apiece for serving eight years in the House.
  • Although lawmakers elected in 1984 and thereafter tend to be covered by a pension plan that is less generous than the one offered to their senior colleagues, they can make up much of the difference through a taxpayer-funded “match” of salary contributions in a “Thrift Savings Plan” that functions much like a private-sector 401(k) arrangement. By taking maximum advantage of this plan and its investment options, a lawmaker elected in 1990 could retire this year with Thrift Savings Plan assets of more than $248,000.

Better than Private Sector

Members of Congress are covered under the two major retirement systems that include most federal employees, but lawmakers enjoy better pension formulas and eligibility rules than rank-and-file workers. (Participation is voluntary.) Congressional pensions are two to three times more generous than those offered to similarly paid executives in the private sector.

One reason is a yearly COLA that few businesses offer.

Individual pension amounts for members of Congress are not a matter of public record. However, NTUF utilized data on lawmakers’ service, eligibility, and life expectancies to provide the most accurate calculations of pensions possible.

Peter J. Sepp ([email protected]) is vice president for communications with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, the nonpartisan research arm of the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union.

For more information …

The full report on pensions for 108th Congress retirees, “Study: Congressional Retirees Reap Huge Taxpayer-Funded Pensions,” is available online at http://www.ntu.org/main/page.php?PageID=68.