WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin would have to be elected at least two more times to make the five-year minimum requirement to even qualify for a pension as a member of the House. But less than three months into his tenure as a federal lawmaker, the freshman congressman says he’ll do without it.
In a March 10 letter to Dan Strodel, the chief administrative officer of the U.S. House of Representatives, Griffin, R-Little Rock, wrote that he would neither apply for, nor accept, his pension payments.
“American taxpayers already pay too much to fund government, and there is no need for them to pay for my retirement when I leave the U.S. Capitol,” he wrote.
Griffin will still qualify for, and participate in, the Thrift Savings Plan offered to House members. The plan allows employees to deposit up to $16,500 into a retirement account. The House matches employees’ contributions equaling up to 5 percent of the their salaries.
Griffin said the plan is analogous to 401(k) plans, which are popular among nongovernmental employers.
“If you look around the private sector,” he said, “most people don’t get pensions.”
Rep. Rick Crawford, another freshman GOP congressman from Arkansas, plans to keep his pension.
“Congressman Crawford’s major concerns are funding the government while reducing spending and creating jobs for unemployed Arkansans,” said Anna Nix, his spokesman. “Once he has helped restore fiscal discipline in Washington he can then focus on his pension plan.”
So does Rep. Steve Womack, also a freshman Republican from Arkansas. He declined to comment on Griffin’s decision.
A spokesman for Rep. Mike Ross, a Democrat from Arkansas, said federal law requires all federal employees, including members of Congress, to pay into the retirement system.
“Accordingly, Congressman Ross has done so and will continue to do so,” said Brad Howard, Ross’ spokesman. “It is my understanding he will be eligible for a retirement benefit at the age of 62 just like all other federal employees with the same length of civilian service.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, lawmakers elected after 1984 are automatically enrolled in the Federal Employees Retirement System, which combines the Thrift Savings Plan, enrollment in Social Security and a monthly pension based on years of service and the average of the three highest consecutive years of basic pay.
By law, Griffin must continue to pay 1.3 percent of his salary into the system - he has said he will refuse the benefits associated with his congressional service when they are available upon his retirement.
Retirement with a full pension is available to lawmakers 62 or older with five years of service in Congress.
Basic annual pay for congressmen and senators is $174,000. Using a slightly lower figure, $172,433, the Congressional Research Service calculated that the annual pension payment for a retiring lawmaker with 20 years of service would be $58,627 a year.
According to financial disclosure reports filed when he was a candidate for office, Griffin earned $66,000 in 2009 working as the principal of his law and public-affairs firms. The previous year, he earned a combined $497,000.
He listed between $5,006 and $76,000 in assets in cash, stock and mutual-fund accounts, and liabilities between $80,003 and $200,000, consisting of student loans and credit card debt. Federal candidates and officeholders can provide a range - rather than an exact dollar amount - of income, asset and liability figures in their disclosures.
If Griffin continues to serve in the National Guard, which requires at least 20 years of service, he could qualify for a military pension. Griffin, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, has served as an officer for 14 years.
Without his congressional pension payments, Griffin said his retirement strategy is simple: “I plan on working for a long time.”