Top 4 Hill Leaders Eligible for Millions in Taxpayer-Funded Retirement Pensions

July 15, 2020 Updated: July 16, 2020

Four top leaders representing both major political parties on Capitol Hill could walk away with millions of dollars in tax-funded pension benefits upon retirement, according to OpenTheBooks.com.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would be eligible for an annual tax-funded pension of $146,686 (including $44,184 in Social Security).

In addition, since Schumer was first elected to Congress in 1981, taxpayers have contributed $278,035 into his federal Thrift Savings Plan, which, if invested in an S&P index fund, would be worth more than $1.4 million as of Dec. 31, 2019.

Unlike Schumer and other top congressional leaders, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has only been in Congress since 2007, so he’s had less time to accumulate pension assets.

OpenTheBooks.com calculates that taxpayers have contributed $118,245 to McCarthy’s federal Thrift Savings Plan, which if invested in an S&P indexed fund would be worth $243,636. McCarthy, 55, would also be eligible for a $28,000 annual pension, plus Social Security, if he retires at age 62.

The Schumer and McCarthy calculations, which were done at the request of The Epoch Times, are based on published provisions of federal retirement programs for Congress, as well as individual senators and representatives’ annual financial disclosures.

OpenTheBooks.com advocates making government spending at all levels available for citizen review on the internet. The group’s goal is to see “every dime, online, in real time.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would receive an annual tax-paid pension of $153,967, according to OpenTheBooks.com calculations published last month.

“In addition, Pelosi could cash out an estimated $1 million lump sum through her federal savings account, and that’s just the portion of the account that was taxpayer-funded,” OpenTheBooks.com stated.

“Our auditors calculated that [Pelosi] earned $5.7 million in salary to date during her 34-year congressional career. Pelosi’s salary ranged from $77,400 (1987) to today’s $223,500, as the most highly compensated member of Congress,” the nonprofit continued.

“Taxpayers also invested $282,965 into Pelosi’s federal Thrift Savings Plan, an amount that equals 5 percent of salary, as long as members also contribute 5 percent of earnings. We estimate that those taxpayer dollars grew to $1.03 million if invested in an S&P 500 index fund, as of Dec. 31, 2019.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been in Congress since 1985 and earned $5.5 million in salary, ranging from $75,100 to today’s $193,400, as the second-highest-paid member of Congress behind Pelosi.

“Taxpayers also invested $273,700 into McConnell’s federal Thrift Savings Plans. We estimate that the taxpayer dollars grew to $1.1 million if invested in an S&P index fund (as of Dec. 31, 2019),” OpenTheBooks.com stated.

As a result, McConnell would be able to cash out an estimated $1.1 million as a one-time lump sum or draw on it over time as he chooses.

OpenTheBooks.com didn’t calculate McConnell’s pension, but noted that researchers at the National Taxpayers Union estimate the Kentucky Republican would be eligible for a total package of $142,902, including $46,164 in Social Security benefits.

The lucrative retirement packages available to the top four leaders in Congress aren’t exceptions to the rule. OpenTheBooks.com calculated, for example, that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), currently the longest-serving member of Congress, could retire with an annual pension of $167,040.

All members of Congress could opt-out of their federal pensions, as then-Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) did in 1994. But an obscure provision of a 2004 appropriations bill ended that option for members of the House of Representatives.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) has introduced the “Member of Congress Opt-Out Clarification Act” that repeals the 2004 provision, and also specifies, “Members who opt-out of FERS [Federal Employees Retirement System] may still participate in a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), allowing Members to save for their retirement like their constituents without contributing to a plush pension program.”

Braun’s bill, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), was approved by the Senate in December 2019, but a companion version hasn’t advanced in the House.

In a fact sheet on his bill, Braun noted the following characteristics of congressional wealth:

  • The median minimum net worth of members of the 115th Congress was $511,000, while the median net worth of an American household in 2016 was $97,300.
  • The collective wealth of members of the 115th Congress was at least $2.43 billion.
  • At least 43 members of the 115th Congress can be considered millionaires.
  • Only 15 percent of private-sector workers contribute to a defined benefit pension. Even factoring in federal employees, only 23 percent of American workers contribute to a traditional pension.

That’s down from 38 percent in 1980, as traditional pensions continue to be phased out by private sector companies in favor of 401(k)s and other [defined contribution] savings plans.

Braun and Scott also introduced legislation in February 2019 to abolish all tax-funded congressional pensions.

“If we remove the luxurious perks from Congress, we’ll get better leaders; that’s why I’ll never accept my Senate pension, and if forced to, I pledge to donate every penny to Hoosier charities,” Braun promised.

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc