Monday, October 11, 2010

After death, Sen. Byrd still had his hand in taxpayers' pocket

When the longest-serving senator, Robert Byrd, passed away in June, he was part of one of the most lucrative benefit plans in government, or in the country. Sen. Byrd was vested in his benefits before 1984, when federal workers, including members of Congress, began participating in Social Security. He had a pension, a retirement plan and likely a life insurance policy through the federal government.

He was a wealthy man at his death at 89 years old. His last financial disclosure had no liabilities and at least $600,000 in assets. His wife was deceased and his children and grandchildren are adults, yet the Senate voted to give him a “gratuity” of another year’s salary amounting to $193,000.

Before you cry foul, it has been a practice for most of the history of the U. S. Senate and House to pay a “gratuity” or death benefit to senators or congressmen who die in office.

The first record of payment was in 1826, to the family of Sen. John Gilliard of South Carolina. He was a pauper and his funeral was paid for with public funds and he was buried in the Congressional Cemetery.

However, at that time, there was no salary to be senator, only a per diem. There were no benefits, pensions or thrift incentive plans. However, I would have said if I were alive at the time, “Why are you spending public money on the burial of a senator. Take up a collection, but don’t spend public money.”

What is even worse is this provision for Byrd’s payment was tucked in to this “must pass” spending bill the Senate passed before they headed out of town for the elections.

Politico reports that in the Senate handbook, it says when a senator dies in office, “in the next appropriations bill, an item will be inserted for a gratuity to be paid to the widow(er) or other next- of-kin, in the amount of one-year’s compensation.”

So the bill will allow for the $193,000 to be paid in equal shares to the senator’s two children and five grandchildren.

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