Skip to main content

Can Members of Our U.S. Congress Retire With Full Pay After Just One Term? The Dirty Details!

C. E. Clark has been a student of how U.S. government works since she was just 13 years old,, and a political junkie for more than 35 years.

Have You Heard That Members of Congress Can Retire After Just One Term With Full Pay For the Rest of Their lives?

Several years ago I heard for the first time that members of the U.S. Congress could serve only one term and then retire and receive their same salary from the government for the rest of their lives.

Apparently there is an email that is forwarded periodically to remind people that Congress members have incredible benefits. I was reminded of the too-good-to-be-true benefits congress members receive recently in comments left on a couple of my articles (hubs). Also a dear friend wondered out loud in a conversation we were having, if Congress members who resign before their term is up, or if they are forced to resign, also get those amazing benefits for life.

Having accepted the reality of these Congressional benefits for a long time without question like I am sure many of my readers have done, this time was different for me. For some reason a question formed in my mind as to whether or not what has become a common belief regarding this issue is in fact based in reality and truth. I decided to see if I could find the truth about Congressional benefits and pensions.

Previously I have acted on other ‘facts’ that are taken for granted as true in our society in order to determine if they were in fact, facts! For example, I wondered whether or not it is true that men really do think about sex every 7 seconds as they have been accused of doing for decades. I shared my findings with my readers in a hub titled: Do Men Really Think About Sex Every 7 Seconds?

More recently I questioned what I have heard for years about men being the better motor vehicle drivers. The title of the article that reports my surprising findings is: Are Men Better Drivers or Are Women Better Drivers?

Oh my, what a hornet’s nest I stirred up with that article about who is the better driver! So before embarking on the research for this article, which may stir the passions of some people since it is by its nature somewhat political, I took the precaution of arranging for personal security with Blackwater, famous for their policy of taking no prisoners in Iraq. They are to surround and accompany me everywhere I go from the moment this article is published. (Just joking.)

Please be aware that I am reporting my findings from reputable sources and not cherry picking those sources that agree with me. In fact, I think all of our Congress members regardless of political party are doing better than they should be given that they are supposedly servants of the people, paid with tax dollars.

As always, my references are posted both within and at the end of this article for anyone who cares to review them, and for anyone who wishes to pursue more information on this subject.

State of the Union Address 2013

President Obama delivering the State of the Union  Address February 12, 2013

President Obama delivering the State of the Union Address February 12, 2013

Terms and Salaries of Congress

As my readers know, one term in the United States Senate equals 6 years, and one term in the House of Representatives equals 2 years.

Currently rank and file members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate each receive a salary of $174,000.00 a year.

Senate and House leadership positions, such as Minority and Majority Leader, pay $193,400.00 a year each. The Speaker of the House is paid $223,500.00 per year.

All members of Congress receive a cost-of-living-adjustment, sometimes referred to as a COLA, every year unless they vote NOT to accept it. Sometimes Congress does vote not to accept the raise in order to impress on their constituents that they are tightening their belts too, but not often. Also, individual Congressmen/women sometimes turn down pay increases (Robert Longley, About.com).

Congress must vote not to accept COLAs to prevent them from automatically taking affect. COLAs became automatic for members of Congress in 1989, by of course, an act of Congress (Ethics Reform Act of 1989). Since that time Congress has voted not to accept the automatic COLA 7 times, most recently in 2011 (Robert Longley, About.com).

Is It True That a Member of Congress Can Collect Full Salary For Life After Serving Just One Term In Office?

The following information was obtained from PolitiFact.com, FactCheck.org, Snopes, Robert Longley who writes an excellent guide to government information on About.com, and last but not least, Congressional Research Service (this is a U.S. government agency).

U.S. Federal law prevents any member of Congress from receiving a starting retirement annuity of more than 80% of his or her final salary. That alone makes clear that no member of Congress is able to collect 100% of their salary if they do not serve more than one term regardless of why they did not serve more than one term. A retired member of Congress can never collect more than 80% of their final salary prior to retiring -- ever.

There are more requirements members of Congress must meet in order to receive any retirement at all. Apparently ‘red tape’ is not limited to us peasants.

To collect any retirement benefits, a member of congress must have served a minimum of 5 years and then must also meet one of the following requirements:

*A U.S. Congress member who has served fewer than 20 years must be at least 62 years of age to be eligible to collect any retirement benefits. Even then it will be based on his or her income for the years served. It will not be his or her same salary paid when still in office, for life -- more on this later.

Scroll to Continue