Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., this fall will introduce a bill that would end the defined benefit portion of the congressional retirement plan. Currently, lawmakers who have been in Congress at least five years receive annual benefits equal to 1.7 percent of their salary for every year served up to 20 years, and 1 percent for each additional year. Members contribute 1.3 percent of their paychecks to the pension plan and also are eligible for Social Security and a 401(k)-type account.
Under the legislation, lawmakers still would receive any retirement benefits already accrued and could continue to contribute to Social Security and the 401(k)-style Thrift Savings Plan. Members of Congress typically become eligible for retirement annuities at an earlier age and with fewer years of service than most government employees, but they also pay more of their salary for retirement benefits.
"These are extremely difficult economic times and Congress needs to set an example and lead the way for the country," Coffman said. "I think this is a good start."
Coffman is not the first to propose changes to congressional pensions. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., in March sponsored legislation that would prohibit members of Congress from receiving matching contributions to their Thrift Savings Plan accounts, a benefit also available to federal employees, in the absence of a budget resolution that reduces the deficit from the previous year. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in April introduced a bill that would require members of Congress to wait until they reach the Social Security retirement age to access their federal annuity benefits.
Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., this summer sponsored legislation that would require new members of Congress to serve for at least a dozen years before they vest into the congressional pension program. It also would ensure they do not receive other pension benefits until they've served 12 years.
Under the Federal Employees' Retirement System, lawmakers are eligible for an immediate, full pension once they reach age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service; they are eligible at age 50 or older if they've served 20 years, or at any age after completing 25 years of federal service. Under the Civil Service Retirement System, members of Congress are eligible for an immediate, full pension at age 60 or older, after a decade of service, or age 62 after five years of federal service.
The new bill comes amid conflict over the future of federal employee pensions. Proposals floating around include shifting from a high-three to a high-five annuity calculation, or requiring federal workers to contribute more to their pension plans.