10 Perks Congress Has That You Don't

Following a 16-day government shutdown, another round of kick-the-can when it comes to the U.S. debt ceiling, and rabid debates over the future of Obamacare, it's not surprising to discover that Americans don't think very highly of Congress.

I know from a personal perspective I'm not too pleased with the effort either party has put in over the past couple of years, but three polls since 2011 speak wonders to the amount of vitriol directed at Congress.

Source: White House on Flickr.

Separate polls from The New York Times, Public Policy Polling, and Gallup (conducted between 2011 and 2013 for the latter two) show that Congress' approval rating comes in at a record low of between 9% and 11%, depending on which source you choose. As Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) so aptly put it (link opens a YouTube video) in 2011 while speaking to members of Congress about its 9% approval rating, "We're almost at the margin of error for zero!"

These aforementioned poll-takers put it into even more context by asking Americans what their opinion was of Congress relative to other unfavorable ideas, people, and tasks. According to their results, Congress is viewed less favorably by the public than dog poop, hemorrhoids, traffic jams, cockroaches, lines at the DMV, zombies, herpes, banks, Brussels sprouts, the IRS, used-car salesmen, and Wall Street. However, by some saving grace, Congress has remained in a better light than Miley Cyrus.

While the results are understandably comical, they're also incredibly sad. Why? Because Congress is in control of setting the laws that individuals and corporations are governed by.

As I discussed in June, public perception can be a dangerous tool that can destroy stock market rallies even if companies are delivering solid growth prospects. Investors' faith in Congress is crucial, as their ability to navigate the upcoming debt-ceiling debate in early February could have a profound impact on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) and broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) . Even though both the Dow and S&P 500 hit new all-time highs this week, the government shutdown is estimated to have cost the U.S. $24 billion in GDP and we're no closer to a long-term debt-ceiling and federal deficit solution than we were at this time last week. A prolonged government shutdown and debt default would portend bad news for both major U.S. indexes moving forward.

However, what could be most disconcerting thing of all are the perks members of Congress get as a "thank you" for serving their country. I've highlighted countless company perks over the years that companies grant their employees, and some did involve exorbitant pay packages, free gym memberships, and hefty retirement plans. But there are few company perks that compare with these 10 taken together.

1. A base annual salary of $174,000
Admittedly, there should be some premium in pay for setting the laws and running the country as elected officials, and certain companies do grant their employees exorbitant pay packages, but being a member of Congress includes a minimum annual paycheck of $174,000, which is more than three times higher than the average private-sector salary of $51,986 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Source: Global X, Flickr.

2. Free airport parking
How much would you pay for an airport parking spot that was directly next to the terminal you landed at? For Congress, it's a big fat zero. At one time in its history, long before the Airport Authority controlled Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport in the Washington, D.C., area, the federal government operated them. When the Airport Authority took over in 1987, as a courtesy, it kept 92 combined spots reserved between both airports for members of Congress. At a rate of $22 per day, that represents almost $740,000 in forgone revenue annually for Reagan National.

3. A free, on-site gym for House members
Not only are members of the House of Representatives treated to their own exclusive gym, but it also comes with flat-screen TVs, a swimming pool, a sauna and stream room, and paddleball and basketball courts. This wouldn't be too bad, except that Congress kept its gym open during all 16 days of the government shutdown, putting the onus of cleaning and maintenance fees squarely on taxpayers.

4. Weakened insider trading restrictions
Despite passing the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, perhaps known better as the STOCK Act in 2012, Congress gutted the primary disclosure component earlier this year. While still making it difficult to make trades on inside information, this means they don't have to publicly disclose their trades and potential insider knowledge. It's laudable they passed the restrictions, but it's hard keep them honest if it's difficult to access the information.

5. Up to 239 days off
According to the congressional calendar released in late 2012, there were 126 congressional sessions on the docket without a single five-day work week, leaving members of Congress with 239 days to work outside of Congress. Sometimes this means working within their home state, and in other cases it can mean a vacation. Members of Congress get the entire month of August off, get two weeks around Easter off, and weren’t scheduled to work a single weekend, according to this year’s docket. Of course, the congressional docket can be changed and, as we saw as recently as the debt-ceiling debate, members of Congress will indeed work weekends as deemed necessary.

6. Congress receives health-care subsidies under Obamacare
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, individuals are required to have health insurance or face a penalty that increases each year through 2016. For individuals earning less than four times the annual poverty level (about $46,000) or families earning less than four times the poverty level (close to $92,000), they are eligible to receive a partial or full subsidy on their health insurance through Obamacare's health exchanges. Congress, however, also gets a large portion of its health insurance subsidized by the public on Obamacare's health exchanges despite making more than four times the poverty level.

Source: Tax Credits, Flickr.

7. A better retirement plan
According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average Social Security recipient is going to net $15,000 a year in benefits while a public workers' pension will average around $26,000. By contrast, a retired member of Congress who's served 20 years will average $59,000 annually in pension benefits. In addition, Congress members (actually all federal workers) have access to the Thrift Savings Plan, a 401(k)-like investment vehicle with fees of just 0.03%. To put that into context, Bankrate notes that this means just $0.27 in fees for every $1,000 for the Thrift Savings Plan, compared with the average 401(k), which charges around $5 in fees for every $1,000! Over a lifetime, that can mean thousands less in fees for congressional employees compared to public- and private-sector workers.

8. Members of Congress fly free
OK, so not every flight is free for members of Congress, but a vast majority of flights between their home states and Washington, D.C., are funded with taxpayer money. What's really unique is that lawmakers are afforded the ability by airlines to book themselves on multiple flights without being charged multiple times because of their very liquid schedules.

9. Death benefits
Should a member of Congress be killed while in office, the surviving family of that member would be entitled to receive at least one year's worth of salary, or a minimum of $174,000. In contrast, family members of soldiers in the United States armed forces who perish while defending our country domestically or overseas are entitled to $100,000 in military death benefits, as well as funeral and burial expenses.

10. A $1.2 million to $3.3 million allowance
Members of the House receive a $900,000 annual allowance for a staff as well as a $250,000 budget for travel and office expenses, paid for entirely by taxpayers. Each senator, on the other hand, gets a budget close to $3.3 million based on figures from the Congressional Research Service. Again, certain companies do offer lavish pay packages and perks to employees so it may be a bit hypocritical to pick on Congress for this one point. However, I’m not aware of any business out there where all employees equally get at least $1.2 million in expenses at their disposal. 

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Read/Post Comments (31) | Recommend This Article (40)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 4:40 PM, spintreebob wrote:

    Congress can put its hand in my pocket, steal my money, spend it like Santa Claus and then tell me it is for my own good.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 4:54 PM, Kngrthr wrote:

    Congress should be kicked in the ass, they work supposedly, for the people, not for themselves.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 4:56 PM, GoldenEagle51 wrote:

    This is kinda not right..Congress no longer has a pension plan. The "new" group in Washington has the "FERS" plan. Part SS and part of the Gov Thrift Plan. The old CSRS (Pension) plan is dead and gone. Only Senior Members of Congress and the Senate "may" have those plans, otherwise when they retire, the plan will be completely gone. Ronald Reagan did away with CSRS back in 1982. I wish people would get their facts straight.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 5:30 PM, bbenge002 wrote:

    The voters had a chance to fire every member of the House last election cycle and they chose not to do it. Do you think anyone has learned anything?

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 5:45 PM, altha2008 wrote:

    They should be paid by what they produce, in tis case they will owe tax payers

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 5:53 PM, 2smartforlibs wrote:

    That's not even the half of it some think the are royalty when they are in office they expect there families to fly free as well (Aunt Nancy). Expect their names on everything they can get it on ( Robert sheets Byrd). The list is long

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 5:54 PM, rehanali wrote:

    SO WHO PUT US IN THIS DEFICTS REPUBLICANS BLAME OBAMA HE WAS NOT THE PRESIDENT IN 2000 SO IF WERE 10T IN DEFICTS WITH INTRUST WE NOW ARE @16.5T SO I DONT SEE WHY THE PRESIDENT IS TO BE BLAMED

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 6:13 PM, Disgustedman wrote:

    It will not be a surprise to me if someone goes nuts and shoots some of those in congress. Perks like these make people very angry....

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 6:14 PM, assuptaz wrote:

    When the congress gave themselves the power over their pay and perks was the point that the country started to lose my respect in the political process. If these corporate puppets are allowed to continue to rape and pillage their way through the American people we are done as a respectable country. It is time to strip these self serving 1% wannabees of the power they can not handle and do not deserve. It is time to stop the madness and return this country to the people that support it.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 6:15 PM, karendrucks wrote:

    So why do we keep electing these yahoos? Why do working class people think any republican cares about their issues? After all, these guys got theirs, why should they care about us? I mean, seriously, think about it folks

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 6:25 PM, jjn1976 wrote:

    Now I maybe wrong and I expect that I'll get berated and called names but here’s my thoughts on this article.

    1. Salary: I’m paying them to run the largest corporation in the world. Perhaps if we paid them more they’d be less beholding to lobbyist and other pressures. Then again probably not.

    2. Airport Parking: Toss-up. If they took a cab or paid to park under the Federal Joint Travel Regulation they’d be eligible for reimbursement. Having prepaid parking might actually be cheaper to the tax payers. Strange I know.

    3. Gym: Many large companies have gyms now. Is it right, maybe not, but I’m leaning toward yes.

    4. Stock Trading: They should be forbidden from any trading. Their holdings should be put into blind trusts at a minimum just like the president.

    5. Days off: Well that’s not quite right. They go back to their districts to “communicate/consult with their constituents. This is the kind of misleading.

    6. Health Care: Tired of this one. Most big companies provide either full or partial funding of their employees health care. What do you want? The Federal Government to stop their payment totally, take the fine the ACA calls for? That’s what big businesses are slowly doing. The problem is not the subsidy but the ACA itself.

    7. Retirement plan: As it is it should go away but not entirely. They should be allowed to participate in a 401 like all Americans. If they serve 20 years or more a percentage of salary should be in order.

    8. Airlines: Would you like to have the airlines charge them? The Joint Travel rules would allow them to be reimbursed; this actually saves us, tax payers, money....darn the facts!

    9. Death Benifit. This shameful.

    10. Allowances: If they don’t get funding to have staffs and travel are we going to allow Lobbyist to fund it? Don’t say they don’t need a staff or to travel. That’s not true and you know it. This could get ugly quick.

    The problem is, we the voter, don’t hold them accountable and continue to vote them back into office because we think it's not our congressmen's fault.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 6:56 PM, bruceh100 wrote:

    "All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal...."

    "Animal Farm"

    George Orwell

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 6:59 PM, nerak0609 wrote:

    I'm not sticking up for congress, but the problem is not what they get paid. It is their performance. You cannot compare the salary of a congressman or senator to the "average" worker. My salary is $150k. Am I overpaid because I make more than the average worker? No. My salary is based on what the market will bear for similar work. I am not sure, but the days off are not all vacation days are they? They need to spend time in their districts. So that isn't a fair comparison either.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 7:23 PM, GymS wrote:

    Insider trading? Just ask john kerry about the sweetheart billions he made off the Heinz sale. Ohh, but maybe he'll counter my truths by showing us his phony Nam medals.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 7:26 PM, Fathergod wrote:

    So whats the good news with the Government shutting down?

    More people are getting involved with knowing how Congress works and the perks they get.

    IF you really want to put term limits on Congress, then you need to contact your state representatives and ask them to ratify a vote to change the amendment of the U.S. Constitution or demand that whatever state you live in allows the people the right to vote for the amendment change.

    However, 38 out of the 50 states needs to ratify the change so really, it's all up to us to make term limits happen, we just need to get off our butts and start the process

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 7:26 PM, Govt4thegovt wrote:

    YES I HAVE KNOW ABOUT THEIR SET UP AND THEY SHOULD GET THE SAME RETIREMENT NO PERKS SAME INSURANCE AS THE RETIRED AND WORKING CLASS AND MAX. OFF TIME OFF WORK HOLLIDAYS ONLY.

    and when they leave office they get (0) they pay for everything just like the working people . and term limits on all congress senate and house 8 years a max same as a president considering if they are doing an acceptable job if not they should be asked step down Immediately!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    all these perks and pay for politicians was made up by "RICH" lawmakers/breakers so any working person is going to be left out here.

    THEY TAKE FROM THE POOR RETIRED AND THE WORKING AND GIVE IT TO THE "RICH".

    at this point and time especially in the last 5+ years we got a Dictatorship not a Govt.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 7:29 PM, LarryMcD312 wrote:

    This Government is the reason many can't sleep at night and can't afford there house payments anymore!! It's good to know they are are safe and sound in there own personal little dream land that we pay for with our overtaxed dollars!!! They will ALL get what's coming to them though!!! If they TRULY believe in The Lord then they already know this!!!

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 8:14 PM, nlflynn wrote:

    All together now: TERM LIMITS!

    Congress was never meant to become a lifetime job. It wasn't even intended to be a full time job. These people might get something done if they weren't always so worried about being re-elected.

    It is incredible to me that we have people who are "hired" to work FOR us but who actually have the nerve to exempt themselves from the laws they pass for the rest of us. If the ACA is so wonderful why are they not participating? Why is

    Social Security ok for us but not them? Wake-up, people! Congres and POTUS should not be permitted to pass laws for all but themselves! We deserve better so stop the passive excuses and hold these jokers accountable.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 9:32 PM, BrokenEar wrote:

    #11. They are allowed to break the law, and ignore the constitution.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 9:35 PM, justbowsing wrote:

    Umm, the article would have been much more interesting if the senate perks were included

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 9:44 PM, do1not1lie wrote:

    #6. Get your story straight. Senator Grassley(Rep) put a poison pill in the ACA. Before the ACA became law a congressman's health care was no different from a Park Ranger in Wyoming with the Fed Govt treating all its employees the same as any other large corporation and paying part of their healthcare. Senator Grassley's amendment caused the change which required congress and congressional staff to participate in the ACA which would cause about a $1000 a year pay cut sending many staffers to K Street. OPM fixed this so the staffers could still get the normal support like all large corporations. Congress and Staffers are not allowed to receive the ACA Subsidies. Most of congress members are millionaires and don't care about healthcare.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 10:41 PM, frellmedead wrote:

    We need to bring back the guillotine, and that goes for both parties.

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 12:01 AM, omg1863 wrote:

    We need to give them the same stipulations a regular worker have i.e. 20 yrs before even thinking about retirement, fired if job is not done proficiently, 2 wks vacation, and the same healthcare the average joe has. If I can't have those perks, they shouldn't. What makes them better than me when they supposedly work for me? We the people!

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 12:07 AM, timothylc wrote:

    Author is correct regarding $59K retirement for congressman with 20 years of service. If they stay in for 20 years, they receive 1.7% for each year for a total of 34%. $174K x 34% = $59K a year.

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 8:26 AM, Cherokee12j wrote:

    politicians are like diapers. They should be changed regularly, and for the same reasons

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 9:41 AM, Oldcabdriver wrote:

    Amazing how this writer can take kernels of truth and blend them in with misinformation and exaggeration to further incite an angry American people. Anyone who relies upon this for accurate information is as foolish as this website's name implies.

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 10:30 AM, LosingFaith1 wrote:

    It's not just Congress that is raping the people. All three branches of government are equally guilty. The federal government is a cancer destroying this once great country.

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 6:07 PM, TMFHousel wrote:

    <<Members of Congress fly free>>

    Come on, Sean. Can you name one company that makes employees pay for work travel out of their own pocket?

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 6:10 PM, TMFHousel wrote:

    <<However, I’m not aware of any business out there where all employees equally get at least $1.2 million in expenses at their disposal. >>

    In fairness, I'm not aware of any company whose employees are in charge with legislating the largest economy in the world.

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 6:13 PM, TMFHousel wrote:

    Last one:

    <<A free, on-site gym for House members>>

    This is common in the private market:

    "Nearly three-quarters of companies that provided health benefits last year also offered some sort of wellness program, up from 57 percent in 2009, according to an annual report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Programs include on-site fitness centers, weight-loss and smoking cessation initiatives, personal health coaching and online resources."

    http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2011/07/corporate_fitne...

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 7:44 PM, Angryvet1 wrote:

    Well many good comments were made, some better than others. I like the comment the gentleman made about putting the same people back in and I guess expecting a better out come. Yes we put them in, however how many have seen the answers that reporters get when they ask a question about our government, people in office and the one I like is how many branches of government or there. Lets face it, we are the dumbest people in the world, But then again schools doesn't teach what they should.

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