Lawmakers would be reimbursed for the money they paid into the pension system, but that's it.
By DAVID ENRICH
STATES NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- The unsavory prospect of an ex-congressman being paid a lucrative government pension while behind bars is fueling efforts on Capitol Hill to strip lawmakers of their pensions if they are kicked out of Congress.
Shortly after James A. Traficant Jr. was convicted of bribery, racketeering, tax evasion and obstruction of justice in May, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller introduced a bill to prevent expelled lawmakers from receiving their congressional pensions.
"If a member of Congress does something heinous enough to be expelled from Congress, then taxpayers should not be required to support that individual's retirement," the Florida Republican said when he announced the bill.
On Wednesday, Traficant became just the second lawmaker since the Civil War to be expelled from the House. A federal judge in Cleveland is scheduled to sentence him Tuesday.
Nonetheless, he keeps his congressional pension. Under current law, the only circumstance in which a congressman forfeits his pension is if he is convicted of treason.
The National Taxpayers Union, a nonpartisan group in Washington, estimates the 61-year-old Traficant will get nearly $1.2 million in pension payments over the course of his lifetime.
Less than 20 percent of that will come from contributions Traficant paid into his retirement account during his nine terms in Congress. The rest will be paid by taxpayers.
Under Miller's bill, expelled lawmakers would be reimbursed for the money they paid into the pension system, but that's it.
Because the legislation would not apply retroactively, Traficant's pension is safe.
After languishing in congressional committees since its introduction, Miller's bill has received a much-needed boost from Traficant's high-profile expulsion.
Several lawmakers have signed on to co-sponsor Miller's legislation.
"As we saw in the two trials of Congressman Traficant -- in Ohio and in Washington on the floor of the House -- there are standards, and those standards have to be upheld," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat who endorsed the bill Thursday.
"Anybody who is convicted of a serious crime or a serious felony should not be entitled to what the government has put into their pension plan."
Pascrell and other supporters of the bill say it has a good chance of approval when lawmakers return from their August recess.