Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska had an unhappy 85th birthday yesterday. He lost his bid for another six-year term after all of the state's absentee ballots were counted. He now faces sentencing on his felony convictions for failing to report over $250,000 in gifts from an oil services company lobbyist.
But there is a silver lining for the venerable Senator, believe it or not. The National Taxpayers Union reports that he will still be eligible for a massive $122,000 Congressional pension that comes complete with a cost of living adjustment.
The new Democratic Congress vowed to get tough on such outrages when they took over last year, pointing to convicted GOP felons such as former Congressmen Robert Ney and Duke Cunningham who were eligible for pensions of at least $40,000 a year. But in the end Democrats cut off pensions only if members are convicted of ten specific felonies while in office, all of them related to bribery or corruption. Mr. Stevens's disclosure-related offenses weren't included.
Indeed, nothing in current law has prevented at least 20 convicted felons who served in Congress from keeping their pensions. Democrat Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who was convicted in the House Post Office scandal in 1994, still takes home $126,000 a year.
While Mark Twain exaggerated when he called Congress America’s only native criminal class, its Members certainly take nice car of themselves in retirement -- even if retirement includes a period spent in public housing behind bars.