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Disgraced Wu Could Collect Nearly $900K in Benefits Disgraced Wu Could Collect Nearly $900K in Benefits

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Congress / CONGRESS

Disgraced Wu Could Collect Nearly $900K in Benefits

RESIGNING: Rep. David Wu arrives at a House Democratic Caucus meeting in the House on August 1.(Chet Susslin)

photo of Billy House
August 3, 2011

Scandal-plagued Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., who resigned from office Wednesday night, will be leaving the House eligible to draw a lucrative congressional pension totaling almost $900,000.

First elected to Congress in 1998, Wu’s benefits could add up over the rest of his life to an estimated $851,000 based solely on his congressional service—or $891,000 if another year of possible qualifying service as a clerk with the federal judiciary is included.

(RELATED: Wu's 2010 GOP Opponent to Run Again)

 

Already, the 56-year-old lawmaker qualifies for an immediate annual pension of about $23,871, according to calculations provided to National Journal by the Alexandria, Va.-based National Taxpayers Union. (He had not done so as of Wednesday afternoon). That yearly amount would go as high as $24,998, if Wu’s year of service as a judge’s clerk is added.

If Wu decides instead to hold off until age 62 to collect the full amount of his pension, those annual payouts would be 30 percent higher, said Peter Sepp, the Taxpayers Union's executive vice president.

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“It shouldn’t be this way,” said Sepp, among the critics who complain that congressional retirement benefits are two to three times more generous than those offered to similarly salaried private sector employees. “Whether a lawmaker is leaving under a cloud or is on top of a cloud as an angel—congressional retirement benefits need to be brought back down to earth."

Wu had announced last week he would resign from Congress at the conclusion of the contentious battle over raising the debt ceiling. It was the final legislative hurrah for the seven-term lawmaker, who said he would step down after a damaging report that he had initiated an "unwanted sexual encounter" with the teenage daughter of a campaign donor.

Wu’s standard congressional salary this year is $174,000. Members first elected after 1984 generally participate in the Federal Employees Retirement System and pay 1.3 percent of their salaries toward the benefit. They also pay into and collect Social Security.

(RELATED: Political Sex Scandals)

They also have little fear that inflation will eat into their pension. The congressional retirement benefit is protected with Cost of Living Adjustments, typically projected by federal actuaries to be about 3 percent a year –- a feature that most private plans don’t offer.

Most members of Congress also participate in the federal Thrift Savings Plan, a defined-contribution arrangement that works like a 401 (k) retirement plan, providing a government match of their salary contribution of up to 5 percent. Wu’s potential Thrift Savings Plan balance is calculated to be as high as $213,855.

Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who left in June during his seventh term in Congress amid a scandal over his X-rated Internet indiscretions, also remains eligible to draw upon a congressional pension. The taxpayers’ union has previously estimated that Weiner, 46, would draw an annual pension of $32,357 at age 56, or $46,224 if he waited until age 62 to draw on it. Weiner’s potential Thrift Savings Plan balance is $216,011.

Pension amounts for individual members of Congress are not a matter of public record. But the taxpayers’ union makes its projections based on other known details such as the length of federal service, current age, life expectancy based on table used by life insurance agency mortality tables, and COLA estimates.

The calculations done on Wu’s potential savings in the thrift plan may be up to $213,855 are based on projections of the maximum he could have socked away. According to Sepp, the amount that any participant can contribute annually on his own (without the match) is $16,500 this year. Participants also get another 1 percent of their salary deposit from the government into their accounts, whether they put any of their own money in or not.

The taxpayers' union calculations are based on his having made the maximum contributions out of pocket, and receiving the maximum salary matches.

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