Congress Enjoys Bonuses Too

Washington Matters

Congress Enjoys Bonuses Too

There's been a lot of lawmaker outrage of late about excessive Wall Street salaries and bonuses, and there'll be more as bailout money continues to be dispersed and studied and fretted about. It's more than an easy target, and Congress is especially adept at fanning flames of public outrage. Rarely, however, do lawmakers look inward at their own list of cushy benefits.


While some excesses have been curbed in recent years, such as banning pricey lobbyist gifts and expensive dinners from people seeking influence, lawmakers continue to enjoy many perks of office at taxpayer expense regardless of the economy.


Lawmaker salaries amount to $93 million. Each member is paid a $174,000 annual base salary for starters, and there are automatic cost of living adjustments each year with no roll call vote required. Leaders get a little more in pay, as well as custom limo service. Then there are office and staff expenses that can often run several millions of dollar per member and more for committee chairmen.


Lawmakers are part of a generous subsidized federal employee family health plan, 75% of which is paid for by the government. They have free outpatient care at military hospitals and a fully staffed medical office in the Capitol. There's also subsidized life insurance, a swimming pool, two gyms with a staff of physical therapists, free reserved parking on Capitol Hill and choice "members-only" parking at area airports. The Library of Congress will do all types of research at a member's request, and the National Gallery of Art provides members with print and picture framing services.


The congressional pension, 80% of which is paid for by the government, is about three times as generous as a typical private sector plan in the way it is calculated, and it is inflation-protected with automatic increases, unlike most defined benefit pensions. There are subsidized and finely appointed private restaurants with stunning views. There are cheap barber shops where lawmakers can even cut in line if they are pressed for time.


There are fully paid fact-finding trips with spouses and staffers included and often to exotic places with lots of RR time. Yes, to be fair, some of these trips are useful, but some are not.


House members, but not Senate members, can also keep the frequent flier miles they rack up for personal use later. Members also have free expedited passport service. They enjoy the free mail franking privilege, a privilege worth millions of dollars, allowing them to promote themselves with one mass mailing after another. That's handy in election season. Election challengers have no such privilege.


It's still nowhere near the tens of millions that many on Wall Street make, but it's a whole lot more than most of us earn.