Pension crackdown on corrupt congressional lawmakers full of cracks
By a 431-0 vote, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has approved a measure that would strip lawmakers of their congressional pensions for criminal convictions such as bribery, lying under oath and fraud.
That may sound tough and impressive, but it's more show than substance, as usual.
For one, neither the House measure nor a similar bill in the Senate would affect any of the corrupt lawmakers who paraded across the headlines last year.
After they get out of prison, Bob Ney of Ohio can still collect a ,000 annual pension despite being convicted of taking pricey favors from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Randy ''Duke'' Cunningham is still good to get ,000 a year, despite taking .4 million in bribes from defense contractors. In all, the National Taxpayers Union told The Associated Press that as many as 20 congressional crooks from recent decades might still rake in their pensions, including a whopping 6,000 for former Rep. Dan (mail fraud) Rostenkowski.
Another problem with the proposed pension measure, Republicans said, is that it fails to include enough types of misdeeds. For instance, income tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering and intimidating people into making donations are not specified in the bill.
Differences in the pension bills passed in the House and Senate need to be reconciled and approved before a final pension penalty bill becomes law.
Lawmakers need to include a more complete menu of offenses that would trigger pension loss, and should shut off any further flow of pension money to the crooks who are still collecting from taxpayers, despite their corrupt ways.
If the pension legislation is adopted without such improvements, it will give lie to the new Democratic leadership's stated zeal for ethics reform.
©The Morning Journal 2007 http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/4493828.html
House passes bill to deny pensions to corrupt politicians
Measure will not be retroactive, however, and will exempt lawmakers already convicted
WASHINGTON — With the rhetoric of reformers bent on sweeping corruption from the Capitol, the House voted unanimously Tuesday to deny federal pensions to lawmakers convicted of bribery, perjury and other related felonies.
"Corrupt politicians deserve prison sentences, not taxpayer-funded pensions," said freshman Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., chief sponsor of the bill.
But the punishment of those who betray the public trust will not be far-reaching.
The measure is similar to one approved by the Senate last week and comes in the wake of major congressional scandals last year that led to the conviction of former Republican congressmen Randy "Duke" Cunningham, of California, and Robert W. Ney, of Ohio. The House passed the bill 431-0, with four members not voting.
The bills passed by the House and the Senate are not retroactive, which means that Cunningham and Ney will collect pensions for the rest of their lives, courtesy of taxpayers.
And a current House member under federal investigation for corruption, Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La., might still be entitled to a pension if he is indicted and convicted for past crimes.
What's more, both the House and Senate bills would allow the Office of Personnel Management, which calculates the pensions of members of Congress, to award the pensions of convicted lawmakers to their families, in cases of demonstrated financial need.
"They're trying to claim to fix the problem without backing it up with legislation," said Peter J. Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union. "It's a shame, really. This may not be the most ethical Congress ever, after all."
Stacey F. Bernards, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said the House had no choice because criminalizing past behavior would have violated constitutional protections.
For at least a decade, Congress has been kicking around bills to block pensions for convicted lawmakers. The issue resonated following last year's influence peddling scandal involving convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the midterm elections, when the Democrats grabbed corruption as a campaign theme and used it to win control of Congress.
Currently, members of Congress can be denied pensions only if they commit treason or other espionage offenses.