Editorial: Congress should end members' post-death perk

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Longtime Senator Robert Byrd died earlier this year, but it turns out he'll still end up getting paid next year, after a fashion. Politico reports that under an arcane and little-noticed congressional rule the families - either the surviving spouse or the next of kin - of lawmakers who die in office still get to receive the next full year's salary as a "gratuity." For Byrd, who died at age 92, that's $193,400.

Funny, we thought West Virginia promptly selected a guy named Carte Goodwin to fill Byrd's seat. And we're pretty sure he's not doing the job for free, either. Now it turns out taxpayers are effectively paying to have three senators from coal country?

Obscene, isn't it? Would any ordinary person get this type of benefit? Survivors of folks receiving Social Security when they die are told to "return any funds received for the month of death." What a pity everybody isn't on the congressional plan. (By the way, both parties take advantage; in 2007, for example, families of two Republican lawmakers got the same sweet deal.)

Because Byrd's wife died in 2006, their kids, Mona Byrd Fatemi and Marjorie Byrd Moore, will receive the salary as next of kin. Here's the thing: They're both grandparents. These aren't minor children still living at home, needing dad's salary to pay for their care and upbringing. Maybe you could make a case for this type of extravagance if that were the case, though it's still a pretty big stretch, as we can't think of any companies - or even other government gigs - that dole out a full year's salary like that.

The nearly $200,000 isn't a drop in the bucket, but it's barely a rounding error as far as the giant and growing national debt is concerned. Still, perks like this add up. This one is costly, unnecessary, and only adds to the feeling lawmakers see themselves as different from the rest of us. They should all be at pains to end this particular practice.

But, hey, it could be worse. If Byrd had been from Chicago, they'd probably still let him vote, too.

Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.