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Rep. DeSantis, Claiming to “Reject” Federal Pension Benefit, Misleads and Exaggerates

| January 29, 2013

Ron DeSantis, the freshman congressman representing Flagler County, makes impressive but shaky claims as ably as a veteran politician. (© FlaglerLive)

Ron DeSantis, the freshman congressman representing Flagler County, makes impressive but shaky claims as ably as a veteran politician. (© FlaglerLive)

On Monday, newly-elected U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican who represents all of Flagler County, announced that he was “rejecting the taxpayer-subsidized benefits offered to Members of Congress by turning down his congressional pension and federal health insurance benefits.” The announcement was made through a press release at DeSantis’s website, under a big headline announcing the rejection, and was blasted to media outlets, dozens of which ran the item almost word for word.

DeSantis’s announcement left the impression that the congressman was rejecting outright participation in the system. He did not qualify the rejection. The announcement was misleading, and was based on exaggerations and half-truths.

DeSantis never cited key facts in his announcement: first, that it would be illegal for him to bail out of the Federal Employee Retirement System, the defined benefit plan that covers millions of civilian employees of the federal government. (DeSantis is a lawyer by training.) Second, that he would not be vested—in order to eventually be eligible to tap into the benefit—for five years, which means he’d have to be reelected at least twice before having any benefits to swear off. Third, at age 34, DeSantis is at least 23 years away from drawing any kind of retirement benefit, assuming he manages to be reelected at least four times. If he doesn’t, he wouldn’t be eligible for any retirement pay from the federal retirement system until he is 62, in September 2040. If he chooses at that time to turn down the benefit—which he will be eligible for, regardless of his news-release claims—it might then be more significant news.

Members of Congress could, until 2004, elect not to participate in the federal retirement system. But for any member of Congress elected in 2004 or later, participation in the federal retirement system is mandatory, because the system relies on participants’ contributions to be viable: when individuals bail, the system is less sound for remaining participants. DeSantis doesn’t have a choice but to be part of it.

DeSantis wants to end members of Congress’ eligibility to participate in the system, and he says he’ll file a bill to do just that. The bill is not likely to gain much support, though it would be—as was his announcement on Monday—an effective way to gain positive press and a bit of attention without risking any political capital.

When contacted for clarification, Amy Graham, DeSantis’s communications director, said DeSantis is, in fact, participating in FRES. But that when the time comes to draw down the pension (assuming that time does come), he won’t do it. “He would be eligible to receive that pension,” Graham said. “He won’t accept those funds.”

A typical congressman has a staff of about 16 to 18, with a personnel allowance of $831,000 (as of 2007). All those employees fall under the federal retirement system, and in the aggregate cost taxpayers—to the extent that they do cost taxpayers—far more than the congressmen they serve, especially if staffers outlast politicians (as many do, shuttling from office to office). DeSantis is not proposing to end their retirement pensions.

Meanwhile, DeSantis is paying 1.3 percent of his annual salary of $174,000 (or $2,262 a year) into the retirement system, as required. (Congressmen pay more than other civil service employees, who are required to pay (0.8 percent).

But the freshman congressman also exaggerated claims about how much in retirement pay retired congressmen stand to make. “The National Journal,” DeSantis’s news release stated, “recently reported that Members of Congress are entitled to a pension program that costs roughly $28 million annually and which enables some lawmakers to pull down six-figure pensions on an annual basis.” (The National Journal article could not be immediately located.)

The $28 million figure is accurate, but still, on its own, misleading. It combines the cost of the older, costlier retirement system and the cost of the current, far cheaper retirement system.

Lawmakers who do pull down six figures are few either way. The Congressional Research Service calculated in November that the 215 members of Congress who have retired under the current Federal Employee Retirement System receive an average annual pension of $39,576. Few, if any, members of Congress retiring under FERS would manage to pull down a six-figure pension for the coming years, because that system, which went into effect in 1987, was created by Congress to reflect private-sector retirement benefits, and replace its predecessor—the more costly Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Under that older system, the average annual annuity for the 280 members of Congress was $70,620.

As members of Congress who were part of the Civil Service Retirement System die off, the total annual cost will continue to decline. The average age of those members was 78, as opposed to 70 for those retired and retiring under the current system.

DeSantis was also evasive in the crucial matter of who is paying for those annuities. “I do not believe that elected officials should be provided pensions at taxpayer expense,” he says in his release. But taxpayers are footing only a fraction of the cost of either retired congressmen’s pensions or of that of retired federal employees. Under the older, costlier plan, members of Congress contributed 8 percent of their pay to the retirement system, while the government contributed another 8 percent. Under the new plan, the federal government contributes 18.3 percent (and 16.7 percent to congressional employees). The funds are invested, by law, in Treasuries, and the system is considered sound in perpetuity.

(In Florida, public employees pay 3 percent, the state pays from 4 to 10.7 percent, depending on the employee’s classification. For example, the state contributes 4 percent to a teacher’s retirement, 13.8 percent to a firefighter’s or a cop’s, and 9 percent to an elected official other than a judge, who gets almost 11 percent.)

The congressman in his news release also said he would turn down health benefits offered members of Congress. There is no law against that. The Jacksonville Times Union reports that DeSantis is covered by the health benefits of his wife, who is covered by First Coast News in Jacksonville. His top priority as a congressman, he says, is to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act—better known as Obamacare—which would enable close to 50 million uninsured Americans to get affordable health insurance.

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20 Responses for “Rep. DeSantis, Claiming to “Reject” Federal Pension Benefit, Misleads and Exaggerates”

  1. Diego Miller says:

    The privileged getting more because they are priviledged. It must be nice to part of the chosen few. I am currently on the George Bush health plan, DONT GET SICK.

  2. Nancy N. says:

    Must be nice to have so many benefits that you can pick and choose which ones you are going to accept.

    I don’t have that luxury Mr. DeSantis. In fact, thanks to a pre-existing health condition and being self-employed, I have NOTHING. Feel free to turn down your own benefits all you want, but I’d like to even have some to make choices about. So hands off the ACA. It’s my only chance of having benefits in the foreseeable future.

  3. rickg says:

    Typical Tea Bagger….. A whole lot of talk and very little on the pragmatic side. I wouldn’t give a damn if he worked for free if he keeps spouting this tea party non sense… We need a pragmatic and empathetic representation in Congress. Wake up Flagler…

  4. NortonSmitty says:

    What a preening, pompous gasbag! How about going to Sodom on the Potomac to actually DO something for ALL of us as OUR Representative? Something substantive instead of another empty symbolic dog-whistle to the angry, propagandized, mouth-breathing, inbred Teabagging poltroons who were stupid enough to elect you. Or as your Florida Republican Party proudly calls them, Our Base. Just once do something for the working folks who sent you instead of the rich bastards that bankrolled your campaign!

    P.S. From the photo, it’s easy to see why the Right Wing backed you. How long did it take you to get that Mussolini face down pat? Move over Il Duce, Florida’s got Il DeSantis!

  5. DLF says:

    I am currently on the Obama health care program and I am real sick, sick and tired of the crew of crooks in Washington, both sides.

  6. Bruno Tars says:

    ” Qu’ils mangent de la brioche ” (Let them Eat Cake). The haves and have not.

  7. Edman says:

    Can any Florida Republican be truthful? They all seem to survive by misleading voters and pushing agendas that do nothing to improve the lives of the people they claim to represent.

  8. Magnolia says:

    “Taxpayers are footing only a fraction of the cost?”

    It seems the most worrisome problem we have in this country is people not understanding that ALL GOVERNMENT MONEY is taxpayer money. Without the taxpayer, there IS no government money.

    Interesting that he is receiving so much criticism for trying to cost us less in regards to his own pension and healthcare. You won’t find any others like him that I am aware of. When he makes the kind of money he is making, why should we have to pay for his retirement and healthcare? Why can’t he do it himself, at his own cost?

  9. Ol' sarge says:

    well…you should have voted for Heather Beaven…

  10. Anon says:

    His top priority is………..

    Sounds a lot like McConnell and crew who wasted 4 years of tax payers money chasing their tails trying to defeat the President and anything he backed.

    With DeSantis’s mantra of repealing of the ACA he and the wind tunnel Michele Bachmann seemed to be joined at the hip.. He should find another windmill to tilt at other than healthcare.

    Even with my 6 figure salary trying to purchase health care was a dream. I give thanks to ACA.

  11. Out of curiosity says:

    The folks at the Snooze Journal certainly bought into it.

  12. Stevie says:

    “Oh what does it [telling the truth?] matter, four Americans are dead.”

    So Hillary gets a pass and this guy gets reamed.

  13. What do they call this move again? Pulling an Ayn Rand? LOL! For all she thought good and right and sound, and for all that success, she passed firmly suckling at the very teat she loathed.
    It’s all crap. All of it. When we’re up it’s because we’re great. When we’re down it’s the other guy’s fault.
    These guys just need to shut up and do right. The proof is in the results.

  14. Anita says:

    Well isn’t our Mr. DeSantis just farting nobility. First, he “is rejecting tax-payer subsidized benefits”, ACS and the resulting pension, knowing full well it would be: 1) illegal to do so, 2) he won’t be vested for a couple of terms and, 3) he’s covered for any issues under his wife’s insurance. Then, his own aide confirms that he is a current participant, but won’t collect a pension when he’s eligible, by which time the younger generation of voters will never have heard of this heroic sacrifice and my generation will probably be too “ga-ga” to remember his flatulent pronouncement. This is proof positive that your vote does matter.

  15. JAMES says:

    The great citizens of Flagler County didn’t want to elect one of their own so now we get another outstanding leader who learned very quickly how to play the political game. Thank God the Space Coast isn’t in Flagler County or our rockets would end up going down in the Atlantic, the same way our citizens vote.

  16. John Boy says:

    I voted for Heather and I’m ashamed of all the Tea Baggers who voted to send this Idiot to Washington, I would put him in the same class as our wildly loved Governor, you know, like one term and out.

  17. Flagler Beach Bum says:

    I think Mr. DeSantis is in for a surprise when he files a claim against his wife’s insurance and they say, “tell us again why we should pay for your claim when you have coverage through your employer and declined it?”

    • Nancy N. says:

      As much as I dislike Mr DeSantis and his attitude about this topic, a couple that has dual insurance offered to them from different employers does have the right to enroll in only one of the plans. The fact that they have access to other coverage is irrelevant if they don’t enroll in it. As long as Mr. DeSantis’s wife enrolls him as a member of her plan and pays premiums for him, the plan has no right to refuse to cover him.

      • Flagler Beach Bum says:

        Nancy: Not necessarily true. I worked in the insurance industry for years, and many policies have a clause in them that they can decline coverage on a spouse if that spouse’s employer offers coverage and he/she does not take it. Or sometimes it restricts coverage to the balance not paid IF the other coverage had been in force. If you rely on your insurance without checking for such a clause, you might be in for a surprise.

        Remember, every claim an insurance company pays cuts into the bottom line, so they are always looking for a way NOT to pay.

  18. Heather Beaven says:

    Thanks Ol ‘Sarge.

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