One of the right-wing’s successful but false memes is that public workers are lavishly overpaid and that this justifies cutting their middle class wages, benefits, pensions, and labor rights. This attack on public workers has spawned a Main Street Movement of middle class Americans determined to stand up for economic justice.
During an appearance on C-Span earlier this week, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) continued this line of attack on public worker pensions. Yet at one point, the C-Span host pointed to a Washington Post article that rightly noted that Congress’s own pension plans are “hefty” and allow lawmakers to “retire with generous benefits packages.” When the host asked King what he thought about that, the congressman laughed off the question and said that his own pension is “slim pickins”:
HOST: Here’s a story in today’s Washington post, coming to us from the McClatchy Tribune Services, with pension plans under attack, congress’s own benefits are hefty, lawmakers can retire with generous packages with less buy-in.
KING: The response for that I guess is what you’re wondering. Um, you know, the packages we have today are not the packages that many people think we have. I believe it’s five years to be vested in a retirement plan at all. The federal employees who make a career out of this their plan is one that accumulates over their working career of their lifetime, the average time here in congress as I recall I have to go back to check this, is about 10.8 years. [...] The pension plan for the average member of Congress is not that great […] If I were going to retire off of what’s here, it would be a pretty slim pickins.
King’s defense of congressional pension plans as inferior to other public employee pension plans leaves out important facts about how generous congressional pension plans really are. While it’s true that members of Congress may not serve as many years in the government as some public workers, it’s also true that their pensions are in many ways actually far more cushy than those of the public workers they are attacking.
For example, lawmakers only contribute “1.3 percent of their salaries” into their defined benefit plan, while “the midpoint for defined-benefit pension contributions from state workers” is actually almost 4 times higher, at 5 percent. Additionally, the “accrual rate, a calculation used to determine the rate at which a beneficiary accrues full retirement benefits, is much more generous for federal lawmakers than for most Americans.” Federal employees “have an accrual rate of 1 percent for their pensions. However, members of Congress have an accrual rate of 1.7 percent.”
King’s attack on the pensions of public employees while defending his own congressional pension plan and downplaying its generosity is reminiscent of the many conservative lawmakers — including King — who are against government-subsidized health insurance for Americans but choose to keep their own federally subsidized plan. Both cases are stark reminders of conservative hypocrisy.