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High-Maintenance Ruling Class

Wednesday February 27th, 2013   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 10:29am PST   •  

uscapitolAs Thomas Sowell has pointed out, politicians like to spend money on government pensions, for obvious reasons. It reinforces their professional ruling-class status, they are spending other people’s money on themselves, and the spending comes down the line in the future. But in a lingering recession and shrinking economy, articles like this are starting to appear, daring to question whether politicians deserve the fat payouts.

The poster boy for this story is Norman Dicks, 72, a Washington State Democrat who has been in Congress since 1977, when Jimmy Carter was president. Dicks is retiring and will get $107,268 a year or $8,939 per month. His annual payout could rise to more than his 2012 salary of $174,000 if he lives long enough. Dicks thinks this is fair and that he did a good job but the article cites no contrary opinion on his performance, which doubtless falls short of his glowing review.

The article did reveal that congressional pensions, available at age 62, are two to three times as generous as those in the private sector. They are also more lucrative that those of other federal workers and one taxpayer advocate wants them to make their benefits part of a deficit reduction package or at least harmonize their benefit formula with the rest of the federal government.

That fails to qualify as meaningful reform because federal employee pensions also outstrip those of most workers in the private sector. For example, the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) allows retirement at age 55, seven years earlier than Social Security. And FERS offers a Special Retirement Supplement (SRS) that gives early federal retirees money from Social Security until they reach age 62. And early federal retirees are not subject to the absurd and repressive income restrictions of those on Social Security alone.

Making Congress and federal employees part of the Social Security system would be reform Americans could believe in, but nobody is talking about that. One legislator is pushing reforms through the Congress Is Not A Career Act, but has been unable to line up a single co-sponsor. So any kind of federal pension reform is unlikely. As Norman Dicks confirms, a careerist Congress likes the separate-and-unequal arrangement that forces the working class to accept an inferior system and subsidize the lavish benefits of the ruling class.

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February 2013