WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives will begin debate Friday on a measure to deny federal pensions for former members of Congress who have been convicted of a crime while serving in the U.S. Legislature.
Current federal law strips pensions only in cases of treason and certain espionage-related offenses. Legislation introduced by Rep. Nancy Boyda, D- Kan., expands the list of pension-losing crimes to include "bribery of public officials and witnesses, offenses related to officers and employees acting as agents of foreign principals, conspiracy to commit any of the above crimes, conspiracy to violate post-employment restrictions statutes and perjury in falsely denying any of the above."
"In the past few years, America's faith in Congress has been undermined by scandal after scandal. I find it absurd that the politicians behind those scandals are still eligible for congressional pensions," Boyda said. "Never again should Kansas taxpayers have to fund the pensions of corrupt politicians. This bill is a major step toward restoring the public trust in Congress."
Boyda's bill is similar to legislation passed last week by the Senate and she said she is trying to re-fashion her measure a bit to be identical to the Senate version and avoid a conference that would be needed to reconcile the provisions. Among the differences between the versions in each chamber are the types of crimes to be included in the legislation.
Lawmakers are also sorting out how the law would be applied toward members currently facing legal jeopardy. While the legislation is meant to punish lawmakers for taking bribes in exchange for favors, the bills do not affect members retroactively, meaning previously convicted lawmakers like former Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Bob Ney would still receive their pensions.
"Generally the feeling is a retroactive bill, in effect an ex post facto law ... is an additional penalty" and is not appropriate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said.
Hoyer Communications Director Stacey Bernards told FOX News the House bill will apply only to crimes committed after Congress passes the law. If that turns out to be the case, then someone like Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson would still be able to receive his pension if he is later indicted and convicted of taking bribes and other crimes for which he is currently being investigated.
"If (lawmakers) committed a crime (from) now forward, (they) would know not only do they risk whatever penalty imposed by law, they are going to lose their pension," Hoyer said.
The Senate bill, on the other hand, would apply to convictions, but not crimes, that happen after the bill is enacted. That would mean if Jefferson is convicted after the law is enacted, he would not be eligible for his congressional retirement funds.
Lawmakers, however, are finding that not only is agreement separated by the distance across Capitol Hill, but their efforts are complicated by constitutional protections. The Senate measure, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., will be put into force in the 111th Congress in 2009. Aides explain that's because the 27th Amendment says changes to members' compensation can't go into effect until after the next election.
On Friday the House is also expected to vote on another "scandal" related item — a measure to strengthen the panel tasked with overseeing the House page program. Former Rep. Mark Foley resigned from Congress in September after he was found to have been getting in touch with teen pages and having sexually-explicit conversations with them.
A consequent report from the House ethics committee said the head of the page program and the clerk responsible for administering it did not do enough to protect the youths from exposure to lawmakers
FOX News' Molly Hooper contributed to this report.