Things that are certain: Death, taxes. . . and congressional bereavement payments?

The late Rep. Bill Young(R-FL) talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in 2012. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) The late representative C.W.  Bill Young (R-Fla.) talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in 2012. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Our colleague Ed O’Keefe reported this week that Congress, in its $1.1 trillion spending bill, would continue its tradition of compensating the family of a lawmaker who dies in office. “Tucked inside the legislation was a standard $174,000 bereavement payment to Beverly A. Young, the widow of C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.),” he noted.

Ben Franklin famously quipped —though he may not have been the first —  that nothing in the world is “certain, except death and taxes.” Maybe  to that we should add these payments. But there is at least a bill in Congress to stop the payments, which we’ve always thought give off  a whiff of cozy self-dealing.

The bill, introduced in November by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), came after Congress approved paying $174,000 to the widow of  Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.),  said to have been worth about $60 million.

“The death gratuity became customary starting in 1918 before the birth of modern life insurance (1924), the creation of Social Security (1935), the establishment of civil service pensions (1942), and health benefits under Medicare (1965),” Cooper told The Hill.   “A lot has changed since 1918, and the gratuity custom should have been abandoned a long time ago. Members should choose the death benefit they want by buying life insurance like regular citizens. No special treatment for Congress.”

Maybe some budget hawk groups could score this?

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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Al Kamen · January 14, 2014