Few Americans can imagine retiring at age 42, let alone receive a pension for doing so. But that’s what Democrat Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island can look forward to when he completes his final term in the House of Representatives next January.
According to the most recent data from OpenSecrets for the year 2008, Kennedy’s net worth was approximately $250,000. However that was before the passing of his father, Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was worth an estimated $50 million at the time of his death.
Since taking office in 1995, Kennedy has served eight terms or 16 years as a member of the House. According to Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, that makes him eligible to receive a pension of $47,000 per year when he reaches age 62 in 2029. As a non-partisan taxpayer watchdog, NTU has argued that retirement benefits for members of Congress are excessive, even when compared to other federal employees or political appointees.
“We would characterize benefits as overly generous,” Sepp said, adding that under the current system members of Congress have a very big advantage over other federal employees. “I think a reasonable step would be to put lawmakers under the same formulas as executive branch employees.”
Lawmakers’ pensions are calculated by using an accrual rate that is almost 60 percent higher than executive branch employees. That means a lawmaker who retired after 20 years of service would receive a pension that is almost $25,000 per year higher than a federal employee with the same salary and length of service. Lawmakers with 20 years of service are also eligible to retire with their full pensions at age 50, while feds have to wait an extra ten years.
Sepp said the current pension system for lawmakers was set up in the 1940s with the idea that better retirement benefits would lead to more turnover among elected officials. “It hasn’t worked out that way,” he said. Had Kennedy gotten himself elected to two more terms in the House, he would have seen a significant bump in his pension after crossing 20 years of service. Kennedy’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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