Is it true that . . .
Members of Congress do not pay into Social Security and when they retire they receive a pension equal to their congressional salary for the rest of their life?
The answer is no. All members of Congress pay Social Security taxes in the same amounts as they would if they were employed in the private sector at the same salary level. The amount of a congressional pension varies and depends on years of service, age at the time of retirement, and salary.
The facts: The confusion about Social Security probably results from the fact that before 1984, Senators and Representatives did not participate in the Social Security program. Like all federal government employees at that time, members of Congress were covered by a pension plan, called the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), that did not require payment of Social Security taxes and did not provide Social Security benefits. In 1983, Congress passed a law (P.L. 98-21) that required all federal employees first hired after 1983 to participate in Social Security. The law also required all members of Congress to participate in Social Security as of January 1, 1984, regardless of when they first entered Congress. Because the CSRS was not designed to coordinate with Social Security, Congress directed the development of a new retirement plan for federal employees, called the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which does coordinate a federal pension with Social Security.
Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. They are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80 percent of his or her final salary. As of October 1, 2000, the average annual pension for members of Congress who have retired under CSRS is $52,464, and $46,932 for retirees under FERS-only or both FERS/CSRS.
Read a report that provides more detail on retirement benefits for members of Congress.