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Congressional Perks: Lawmakers’ Most Surprising Benefits

Corbin Hiar
iWatch News / News Report
Published: Friday 25 November 2011
Tennis courts and airport parking — legislators have lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
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It’s seemingly been a pretty rough autumn on Capitol Hill. Last month, the public’s approval rating for Congress dropped to 9 percent, the lowest ever, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

But there’s still plenty for the nation’s lawmakers to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Being a member of Congress remains a surprisingly sweet gig.

In addition to the power to shape policy and public discourse, legislators get great health care and retirement benefits, hefty salaries with annual cost of living increases and the incumbency-boosting ability to blanket constituents with mail touting their achievements.

But there are many less-publicized perks that come along with the job. Here are a few to keep in mind the next time you hear politicians refer to themselves as “public servants.”

Capitol Hill Conveniences

Members of Congress have long been treated as a class apart at the Capitol.

For years there were members-only parking spaces, elevators, dining rooms and exercise facilities to which all legislators — past and present — enjoyed lifetime access. Former lawmakers could also return to the floor of the House or Senate whenever they liked.

In the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, access to these privileged places was curtailed in 2006 for ex-members of Congress who registered as lobbyists. This meant that Bennett Johnston, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana turned lobbyist, could no longer frequent Bennett’s Court, the nickname given to the members-only tennis court in the Hart  Senate Office Building.

These changes have led to some apparent confusion among former legislators. On the first day that the 112th Congress met in January, lobbyist Bob Livingston, a former Republican Representative from Louisiana and friend of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was asked to leave the House floor. “I was under the impression that opening day and the State of the Union were days when I, as a lobbyist, could indeed go on the floor,” Livingston told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “When I was informed that I was mistaken, I left.”

Airport Amenities

Lawmakers’ perks aren’t limited to the legislature. Airports and airlines — the profits of which can be heavily impacted by decisions made on the Hill — also pamper politicians.

Staff schedulers often times make reservations for members of Congress via dedicated phone lines that Delta and other major airlines have reportedly set up for Capitol Hill customers. Airlines also permit members to reserve seats on multiple flights but only pay for the trips they take. “We get on every single flight,” one congressional aide familiar with the process told Roll Call last month.

Whenever lawmakers decide to show up for a flight, they are also guaranteed free parking at the two Washington-area airports, according to a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. At Reagan National, 89 spaces out of 8,000 are reserved for members of Congress, diplomats and Supreme Court justices; at Dulles International, 97 of 25,000 are set aside.

Former Rep. Tom Davis, R – Va., defended the airport amities in a 2007 interview with WTOP. “Members like to get out of town and get back with their constituents,” he said. “If you make it hard for members to move back and forth from their districts, then the people are going to say, ‘Where are you? Why aren’t you back here?’”

Death Dues

Even if a lawmaker was to become the ninth member of Congress killed in a plane crash while in office, generous benefits would be awarded to his or her family.

The families of current members of Congress who die typically receive a full year’s salary as compensation. Survivors of Representatives are entitled to an additional sum. That amounts to at least $174,000 for rank and file legislators, and more for those in leadership positions.

It’s not unusual for death benefits to be paid to the relatives of people who die while working for the government; what’s surprising is the scope of the benefits for lawmakers. By comparison, the families of members of the armed forces killed on the battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan are only entitled to $100,000 for their loss.

Boehner Benefits

No legislator – living or dead – has been paid a higher salary by the taxpayer than Speaker Boehner.

While in office, the Ohio Republican will get the top annual salary in Congress: $223,500. His Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D – Nev., and other congressional leaders are paid much less, $193,400 per year.

The House speaker’s taxpayer-funded perks don’t stop when he leaves office. Like all members of Congress who have held office for at least five years – Boehner has been in the House since 1991 – he is entitled to a generous pension.

But Boehner gets an additional benefit: Up to $1 million per year for up to five years after he leaves the office  to “facilitate the administration, settlement and conclusion of matters pertaining to or arising out of” his tenure as speaker of the House, according to a little known law.

This provision has allowed former Speaker Denny Hastert, R – Ill., to rack up more than $997,000 during the course of three years to document materials related to his time in office. “The archiving continues to go on,” spokesman Brad Hahn told the Chicago Tribune in Feb. 2010. “I wouldn't want to speculate on a timeline.”

Reprinted by permission from iWatch News



Dr. Nora, I signed the Reform

Dr. Nora, I signed the Reform Petition and forwarded it to my associates. Thanks for your efforts to clean up this mess we call the Federal Government.

we need to pay these people a

we need to pay these people a good wage in office and that means no perks no insurance, no retirement , they make enough money not counting what they steal that they can buy all the insurance and retirement that they want, and if that not good enough they can always go back to the private are and see if they can make as much. good luck with that.

Sign the petition for

Sign the petition for congressional reform here:

These are only the beginning

These are only the beginning of the privileges that the royalty expects as it converts America to a feudal fiefdom.

How do we do

How do we do this?

Who do we address this to????

Congressional Reform Act of 2011*_
>>> 1. No Tenure / No Pension.
>>> A Congressman collects a salary while in office and
>>> receives no pay when they are out of office.
>>> 2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social
>>> Security.
>>> All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the
>>> Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow
>>> into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with
>>> the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
>>> 3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as
>>> all Americans do.
>>> 4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.
>>> Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
>>> 5. Congress loses their current health care system and
>>> participates in the same health care system as the American
>>> people.
>>> 6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on
>>> the American people.
>>> 7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void
>>> effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this
>>> contract with Congressmen.
>>> Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving
>>> in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers
>>> envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their
>>> term(s), then go home and back to work.
>>> If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it
>>> will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to
>>> receive the message. Maybe it is time.

How do we do

How do we do this? do we address this to????Congressional Reform Act of 2011*_>>> >>> 1. No Tenure / No Pension.>>> >>> A Congressman collects a salary while in office and>>> receives no pay when they are out of office.>>> >>> 2. Congress (past, present

Buzzersdad, you are right-on

Buzzersdad, you are right-on about the abuse and corruption regarding insider trading. I, too, saw the 60 Minutes exposure. You are not right that ALL members of Congress do this, or that all of them become multi-millionaires. But far too many of them do. And wouldn't it be great if we voting citizens required candidates to pledge to reform this practice, as well as to make the revolving door to lobbying illegal, before we would vote for them?

Most of these perks are known

Most of these perks are known by another name in most civilized nations: "corruption".

I agree that some

I agree that some congressional perks are out of line, but they are a very small fraction of those enjoyed by the layers of corporate executives in many companies who view Members of Congress as poorly paid peons. Consumers pay daily the costs for the daily limousines and/or helicopters to commute to work, the multi-million dollars salaries and benefits, the tens of thousands of dollars of expense accounts, the corporate jets used for personal travel, stock options with insider information, and much more for many goods and services consumers use. At some level the 99% understand they are being taken advantage of, but they don't understand all the reasons why without some real comparative reporting. Congressional salaries and perks are public information and an easier mark to investigate and report, but they can't hold a candle to those in financial institutions, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, computer companies, oil - energy - and utility companies, transportation companies, and many more on whose products and services American individuals and businesses depend. To give just one example, there's a reason the administrative costs of private health insurance companies are 8 times higher than those of Medicare - and a large part of it is that they are for-profit companies whose more than lavish corporate salaries and perks enrich corporate executives at the expense of those who are sick. I doubt any health insurance execs would stay in their jobs if their salaries and benefits were suddenly slashed to those of Members of Congress. But to be sure, why don't you do a comparison of their salaries and benefits and ask them if they'd give up one for the other?

Thank you, Suzie, for the

Thank you, Suzie, for the response that I would have posted, but not nearly so well as you did. I have worked for -- and held excellent observation posts in -- a multi-national corporation, a non-profit, a small corporation, and the federal government. All that you say is true. And, although I am fiercely critical of the right-wingers in Congress who have done enormous harm to our country and our citizens, they are in their positions only because we the people elected them. If I might be forgiven for paraphrasing the Bard, "the fault, dear citizen, is not in our Congress, but in ourselves that we elect them."

Our top-ranking government officials and all members of Congress hold positions of great importance, greater than almost any corporate executive. Most of them had to compete harder for their jobs than most corporate executives. And, unlike corporate executives, they are required to re-compete for their jobs on a regular basis.

The largest and most

The largest and most egregious benefit is a self-awarded legal right to engage in insider trading in real estate or stocks/bonds based upon legislation that they know is about to become law. This is how all congressmen become multi-millionaires during their tenure. And don't forget, either, the awaiting pigs' trough of lobbying for the companies of whom they were employees while in Congress.

You can bet the tea baggers

You can bet the tea baggers are lapping it up too in one hand while the other is eagerly accepting tons of dollar contributions.

None of this is surprising;

None of this is surprising; would we expect less - when you have the key to the candy store why hold back? And that doesn't even address all the honey scattered around the store.On some level we all know the scum these people be. And on another level you have to give it to these creeps for doing such a brilliant job holding on to these secrets.

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