Large Pensions Ease Lawmakers' Pain of Defeat

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle's (search) 26-year political career ended with defeat in the November elections, but he did take home a consolation prize: a pension that in its first year will total $121,233.

The 57-year old South Dakotan can also look forward to receiving about $5 million in pension benefits over his expected lifetime for his service in the House and Senate, according to the National Taxpayers Union (search).

The NTU said Daschle, who received a salary of $175,000 as party leader, is the biggest beneficiary among this year's retirees, but hardly exceptional.

Former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt (search) of Missouri, 63, who retired after 28 years in the House, will begin with a yearly pension of $102,330 and can expect $3 million over his lifetime.

Two other veteran Senate Democrats, John Breaux of Louisiana and Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, will each receive $114,000.

Rep. Phil Crane (search), R-Ill., who lost his bid for an 18th term, will also get $114,000, while Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., who retired last year after 29 years of congressional and other federal service, will take home $100,675.

Lawmakers elected in 1984 and after are enrolled in a somewhat less generous program, the Federal Retirement System that covers millions of government workers. But their benefits are calculated differently from those of other civil servants and many augment their pensions with savings from a 401K-type program and Social Security.

Rep. Amo Houghton, R-N.Y. a multimillionaire who retired after 18 years in Congress, will initially get $44,000, a figure that increases with annual cost-of-living adjustments.

Unsuccessful Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search), who did not seek re-election to the Senate, won't be eligible for his pension until 2015, when he reaches the age of 62. At that time, Edwards, who made millions as a trial lawyer, will receive an estimated $15,500 for his six years in the Senate.

By comparison, former presidents receive annual payments of $180,100, a figure tied to the salaries of Cabinet secretaries. Franklin Raines, recently ousted chief executive of the federally chartered mortgage lender Fannie Mae (search), could take home as much as $1.3 million a year.

By contrast, about half of American retirees aged 55 and older receive pensions, with retirees in the 55-64 age group getting slightly more than $1,000 a month, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

NTU spokesman Pete Sepp, citing recent Congressional Research Service (search) figures, said that in 2002 congressional pensions cost taxpayers some $22 million a year, with 340 retirees under the pre-1984 system getting an average $56,000 and 71 under the new plan receiving about $42,000.

"The Republican revolution of 1994 was the last time we heard any serious talk of reforming the congressional pension system," Sepp said. "This issue may rear its politically inconvenient head when Congress begins discussing Social Security reform," he said.