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Q: Social Security for Senators and Reps ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Social Security for Senators and Reps
Category: Relationships and Society > Government
Asked by: lag-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 19 Jan 2004 21:35 PST
Expires: 18 Feb 2004 21:35 PST
Question ID: 298266
Are US Senators and Representatives covered by (enrolled in) the
Social Security system?  If not, what are the details of their
retirement program?
Subject: Re: Social Security for Senators and Reps
Answered By: clouseau-ga on 19 Jan 2004 22:06 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hello lag,

Thank you for your question.

I came across this interesting page while researching your answer:
Patrick Crusade Organization

"...Our Senators and Congressmen do not pay into Social Security and,
course, they do not collect from it. Social Security benefits were not
suitable for persons of their rare elevation in society.
They felt they should have a special plan for themselves. Many years
ago they voted in their own benefit plan. In more recent years, no
congressperson has felt the need to change it. After all, it is a
great plan.
For all practical purposes their plan works like this When they
retire, they continue to draw the same pay until they die, except it
may increase from time to time for cost of living adjustments. For
example, former Senator Byrd and Congressman White and their wives may
expect to  draw $7,800,000.00 (that's Seven Million, Eight-Hundred
Thousand), with their wives drawing $275,000.00 during the last years
of their lives.

This is calculated on an average life span for each. 
Their cost for this excellent plan is $00.00. 


This is echoed at The Millenia Web Magazine

And reading further, it seems this has been distributed in a number of
emailings suggesting this become a major issue for the 2004 elections.

But wait just a moment! Truth or Fiction says:

Members of Congress Retire With The Same Pay as Their Salaries and
Don't Pay Into Social Security-Fiction!

"...The email says members of congress, both Senators and the House of
Representatives, don't pay into Social Security but do have a special
retirement plan that continues their active salary until death.  The
email encourages jerking "...the Golden Fleece retirement out from
under the Senators and Congressmen, and put them in Social Security
with the rest of us."...

...Congressional pensions are controversial and many believe they
should be reformed, but this email has several inaccuracies.  First,
it is not true that members of congress don't pay into Social
Security.  It's been required of them since 1983, according to Andrew
G. Biggs, Social Security Analyst for the Cato Institute in
Washington, D.C..

Additionally, Biggs says Congress does have its own retirement plan
which does pay a generous pension to retired members of congress plus
they are eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a 401k-type
investment program available to all federal employees.  Depending on a
person's length of service, it is possible to retire with annual
income that is equivalent to a Congressional salary, but no member of
Congress automatically retires with his or her salary being paid as
pension. was unable to find the source for the
alleged Bill Bradley retirement calculations..."

Urban Legends at About .com explains the same question this way:

"...It's true that members of the U.S. Senate and House of
Representatives enjoy a generous government pension plan ? some say
too generous ? but this email rant offers very little else in the way
of accuracy.

Under a law enacted in 1983, all members of Congress participate in
the Social Security system, both contributing and receiving benefits.
Upon retirement, members receive either a combination of federal
pension and Social Security benefits or Social Security alone,
depending on when their term of service started and how they
configured their individual plan.

Members elected after 1983 pay into the Federal Employees Retirement
System. Members elected before 1983 participate in the older Civil
Service Retirement Program. In both cases, members of Congress
contribute to the plans at a slightly higher rate than ordinary
federal employees.

As of 2000, 409 retired members were receiving benefits under CSRS at
an average rate of $52,464 per year and 53 had retired under FERS with
$46,932 per year in average benefits. Members do not automatically
received lifetime pensions. How much they receive and how long they
receive it depends on many factors, including age, length of service
(including military) and choice of plans, etc. So, while it's
conceivable that some may receive pay-outs totalling more than a
million dollars by the time they die, it would be the exception, not
the rule...."

The link to FERS (the Federal Employees Retirment Plan) leads to this description:

"...The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) became effective in
1987, and almost all new Federal civilian employees hired after 1983
are automatically covered by this new retirement system. The Federal
Employees Retirement System is a response to the changing times and
Federal workforce needs. Many of its features are "portable" so that
employees who leave Federal employment may still qualify for the
benefits. The new retirement system is flexible. Covered employees are
able to choose what is best for their individual situation.

The retirement system is a three-tiered retirement plan. The three components are:

Social Security Benefits, 
Basic Benefit Plan, and 
Thrift Savings Plan Benefits.

The first available part of the retirement benefit is Social Security.
It provides monthly payments if you are retired and have reached at
least age 62, monthly benefits if you become disabled, monthly
benefits for your eligible survivors, and a lump sum benefit upon your

The basic benefit portion is financed by a very small contribution
from the employee and from the Government. Basic Plan Benefits are a
monthly payment depending on the employee's pay and length of service.
As in most retirement plans, a formula is used to compute the payments
under the Basic Benefit Plan. The Government averages the highest 3
consecutive years of basic pay. This "high-3" average pay, together
with the employees length of service are used in the benefit formula.
Employees who meet the criteria also receive a "Special Retirement
Supplement" which is paid as a monthly benefit until the employee
reaches age 62. This supplement approximates the Social Security
benefit earned by the employee while they were employed by the Federal

The third part of the Federal Employees Retirement System benefit is
the Thrift Savings Plan. The Thrift Savings Plan is a tax-deferred
retirement savings and investment plan that offers the same type of
savings and tax benefits that many private corporations offer their
employees under 401 (k) plans.

The Federal Employees Retirement System is a flexible plan for a
flexible work force - a work force that is more likely to work for
several different employers during the course of a career. It allows
for the fact that many employees may not retire from the Federal
government. It also builds on the Social Security credits that
employees already have or may earn in the future from non-Federal

There are a number of good links on this page, such as this to CSPAN
where Congressional pensions are questioned:

"...Members who have participated in the congressional pension system
are vested after 5 years of service. A full pension is available to
Members 62 years of age with 5 years of service; 50 years or older
with 20 years of service; or 25 years of service at any age. A reduced
pension is available depending upon which of several different
age/service options is chosen. If Members leave Congress before
reaching retirement age, they may leave their contributions behind and
receive a deferred pension later.

How much they receive depends on a complicated formula based on when
they joined Congress, how old they are at the time of retirement, how
many years of service they had at the time of retirement (including
previous military or other federal service), their salary, and which
pension option they chose when they enrolled. In any case, a Member's
pension amount may not exceed 80% of his/her salary upon retirement.

Since January 1, 1984, all Members of Congress also participate in the
Social Security system and are required to pay Social Security taxes.

Members who were elected after 1984 are automatically part of the
FERS, or Federal Employees' Retirement System. Members elected before
1984 were in the CSRS, or Civil Service Retirement System. In 1984,
those Members in CSRS had to choose to remain with CSRS, or switch to
FERS. The Members elected before 1984 could further choose between
full CSRS benefits, plus Social Security or CSRS benefits offset by
Social Security...

They further note:

"...For more detailed information concerning pension benefits and age
and service formulas under both CSRS and FERS, I recommend you obtain
a copy of "Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress", a report by
Patrick Purcell of the Congressional Research Service. [CRS Report
RL30631, July 31, 2000]. CRS reports are free, but can only be
obtained by requesting them through the office of a Member of

This was written by Ilona Nichols, CSPAN's resident congressional
scholar and seems highly authentic. You might wish to read the entire

Since members prior to 1984 were subject to the Civil Service
Retirement System, I searched to find a few details on that as well.
You'll find a good page on this at the Department of the Interior:

"...The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) originated in 1920 and
has provided retirement, disability and survivor benefits for most
civilian employees in the Federal government, until the creation of a
new Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) in 1987.  However, over
2 million people continue receiving Civil Service Retirement System
retirement and survivor benefits each month.

Retirement benefits are now financed by both employee and Government
contributions to the retirement fund, and provide benefits based on
length of service and the average salary over the highest three years
of pay...

Simply calculated:

...Your basic annuity is computed based on your length of service
(including unused sick leave if you retire on an immediate annuity)
and your 'high-3' average salary.  The basic formula is as follows:

 First 5 years of service x 1-1/2 percent of your high-3 average salary PLUS
 Number of years of service from 6 to 10 years x 1-3/4 percent of your
high-3 average salary PLUS
 Number of years of service over 10 years x 2 percent of your high-3
average salary.

A simple way to calculate this is to take your years of service,
SUBTRACT TWO and MULTIPLY by TWO.  This will give you a very close
estimate of the percentage of your high-3 average salary that you will
receive in retirement..."

You can read the additional details if you desire.

So, to summarize, Senators and Congressmen DO pay Social Security
though it is not the lion's share of their pension programs.

Search Strategy:

senators OR representatives +"social security"
"Civil Service Retirement System"

I trust my research has provided you with the answer you desired. If a
link above should fail to work or anything require further explanation
or research, please do post a Request for Clarification prior to
rating the answer and closing the question and I will be pleased to
assist further.


lag-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00

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