Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just How Much Will A Senator Get Compensated

At one point in history, U.S. senators earned just $6 a day and only when Congress was in session. In 2011, U.S. senators make enough to put them in the top 1 percent of earners and they have full medical, dental and retirement benefits. Several misconceptions abound about senators, such as that they do not have to pay Social Security tax and can give themselves a raise.


Thomas Jefferson toyed with the idea that public officials should not receive a salary, but this idea was rejected so people of all socioeconomic classes could afford to run for government. The founders decided to give senators $6 a day. The per diem lasted until Congress changed pay to a salary of $1,500 in 1816 and back to the $6 per diem in 1817. Congress switched to a salary permanently in 1855, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Current Salary

In 2011, U.S. senators make $174,000 per year. Senators kind of get to set their own salary. Since 1989, raises for senators have been set in accordance with the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, which provides for a raise based on the change in private sector wages and cost of living index. Congress can choose to reject a pay raise, which often happens during tough economic times. From 2009 to 2011, for example, senatorial salaries remained stagnant.

Other Benefits

All members of Congress receive health coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. This not a government-run program or a single-payer system. The federal government pays 72 percent of the premium and members of Congress pay the rest. The plans themselves are privately run, but the FEHBP negotiates on behalf of its members. Since the FEHBP is the largest employer-sponsored program in the U.S., there is heavy competition for the contract. Senatorial pension is administered by the Federal Employees' Retirement System for members elected after 1984, while senators elected before 1984 can be covered under the Civil Service Retirement System unless they choose to switch to FERS. The CSRS does not require the senator to pay Social Security tax, while FERS does. The average pension in 2006 was $35,952, according to the CRS.


A few members of the Senate get paid more than a regular senator due to the extra duties of their job. The leaders of both parties in Congress usually get paid just over 10 percent more than a rank-and-file member. The president pro tempore of the Senate and the vice president -- both positions break ties -- receive a higher salary. As of 2005 this was $208,100.

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