Times Reporter

October 14, 2006

Ney will collect $29,000 pension

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Ney’s vote last spring to deny congressional pensions to lawmakers convicted of certain felonies will not come back to haunt him. That’s because the Senate failed to act on the legislation, which would have barred Ney and other lawmakers convicted of certain crimes from collecting the generous retirement plans.

Ney, who pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and making false statements in a corruption scheme, stands to collect an estimated $29,000 annual pension based on his 12 years in Congress.

That amount assumes that, like most lawmakers, the Heath Republican opted for a slightly lower payout in order to make his spouse eligible to receive one-half of the pension if he were to die.

Lawmakers, who earn $165,200 a year, are entitled to a pension as well as Social Security retirement benefits. They also have the option to join a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k), in which the federal government contributes funds equaling up to 5 percent of their salary.

Lawmakers who joined the pension system after 1983, as Ney did, pay 1.3 percent of their salary into the system. The federal government covers about 60 percent of the pension benefit, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Ney, who is 52, must wait until he is 62 to begin collecting his full pension. However, because he has served in Congress more than 10 years, he could begin collecting a reduced pension of $18,000 at age 56.

Ney faces a recommended 27 months in prison and fines up to $500,000.

Legislation is periodically introduced to bar convicted lawmakers from receiving pensions, but it never passes. In most cases, says Peter Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, the bills never even advance to a committee hearing, much less get voted on by the full House or Senate.

“It’s simply an affront to taxpayers,” said Sepp, whose organization favors barring convicted lawmakers from receiving pensions. “It should never be tolerated because we taxpayers subsidize such a large amount of the pension.”

Sepp said pension-changing bills typically pop up when there is a scandal, and then fade away as the scandal recedes.

In May, the House passed a lobbying and ethics bill that included a provision barring lawmakers convicted of certain crimes from collecting pensions. Ney would have fallen under that prohibition, since he was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one of the crimes listed in the legislation.

That bill failed to become law when the House and Senate were unable to reach agreement on differing versions of ethics legislation.

Norman Ornstein, a congressional analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said it’s hard for a pension change to pass unless it’s part of a larger ethics proposal.

“Frankly, the will to enact a larger ethics package that causes disruption in their (lawmakers’) daily lives is something that has not gotten the level of intense support that it should,” he said. “It’s not going to do so until you get the public demanding it.”