If you're considering throwing the bums out on Nov. 6, here's some added incentive. If you don't vote congressional incumbents out this time around, you will buy them gold-plated pensions.
Congress has written itself the fattest pension plan in the country, but in order to reap the full benefit, the member has to hold his or her seat until 1993. At that point, their future pensions will be based on the generous pay raise they recently slipped themselves. Anyone who loses this year will get a pension based on the old pay rate.
The difference is substantial. For example, if voters decided to dump Rep. Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.), he will start collecting an annual pension of $53,897 next year. But if Annunzio can hang on another term, his pension will start at $73,996 and climb from there, according to calculations by the National Taxpayers Union.
For 20 members of the House, reelection this fall will ensure them a pension of at least $90,000 a year because of their salary record while in office. Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.) is in a nail-biter of a race. If he loses, his pension will start next year at $69,898. If he wins, he could retire in 1993 with a more comfortable pension of $95,083.
The national disgust with those in power has made "incumbent" a dirty word this year and has given hope to challengers with no political resumes. That disenchantment has led to proposals for term limits so members of Congress will vote based on their consciences, not their campaign war chests.
The pension plan is based on a variety of factors including the number of years of government service and the member's top three years of income. For House members who lose their seats next week, the pensions will be based on their average salary over the past three years, or $91,699. But for those who survive another term, the average will reflect the pay raise they gave themselves beginning next year.
If Congress were a private company, the IRS would call its pension plan illegal. The plan is unusual in that it keeps pace with the cost of living and insulates against inflation and recession.
Due to the self-serving foresight of the congressional pension plan and some generous cost-of-living increases, many former members make far more in retirement than they received in office. Albert Gore Sr., father of Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), retired from the Senate in 1970 with a salary of $42,500. He is now entitled to a pension of $88,564.
Our associate Jim Lynch has learned that former president Gerald R. Ford will get more money from the federal pension plan this year than President Bush gets in salary. Thanks to ample presidential and congressional pensions, Ford will collect $219,000 this year, while Bush's salary is $200,000.
Despite the anger sweeping the country, the anti-incumbent crusade will be lucky to oust more than a handful. The insiders simply have too much of an advantage -- name recognition, free mailing privileges, their own recording studio and years of cultivating generous campaign contributors who expect nothing but the lawmaker's soul in return.