In Congress It May No Longer Pay To Die


Mr & Mrs Frank Lautenberg

Most family's rely on the earnings of "the head(s) of household" to see them through. From their earnings, they must put a shelter over their family's heads, feed and cloth them, also provide for all other exigencies of living. If something catastrophic happens and the key wage earner(s) in the family die, hopefully there's some insurance to provide for the survivor's future.

That's why there's life insurance. Not everyone takes advantage of it because it can get costly and there's so many other things that seem to be more pressing. After all, not too many of us think we're going to die until the moment it's upon us. Death is generally something that happens to other people, not us.

When I read about the bill passed that refunded the government after it's shutdown recently, I was surprised by one of the add-ons. No, not the funding of some dam project in Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky. It was the funding of money for the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg. He had died shortly before the shutdown and his poor dear widow was assuredly counting on his death benefits package to get her through.

I was struck by this $174,000 to Bonnie Englebart Lautenberg, wondering what all that was about? I mean it had to be important if it was a crucial attachment to the bill to reopen our government. And now I know. It's known as a death gratuity.


Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) introduced a resolution in the House this week, proposing a ban on death gratuities for spouses of deceased lawmakers.

When a member of Congress dies in office, an item is inserted into the next appropriations bill, granting the equivalent of one year's pay to the survivors of the lawmaker.

On Saturday, Cooper told The Hill that members of Congress should not receive such "special treatment," but should secure their families' futures through life insurance, "like regular citizens."

At first when I read about Cooper's resolution, I thought it was cold. Someone has to die to get this money and I'm sure the family could use any help they can get at this time of need. But when he laid it out that this was special treatment, I got to thinking. I pay annually for life insurance to protect my family. My employers don't contribute. So why should Congress?

It can't be because they need it. It's actually a bit archaic -- a holdover tradition and maybe one past it's necessity.

"The death gratuity became customary starting in 1918 before the birth of modern life insurance (1924), the creation of Social Security (1935), the establishment of civil service pensions (1942), and health benefits under Medicare (1965)," Cooper said. "A lot has changed since 1918, and the gratuity custom should have been abandoned a long time ago."

According to Open Secrets: In 2011, the average net worth of a U.S. Senator: $11.9 Million and the average net worth of a U. S. Congressperson: $6.5 Million. So maybe Cooper's onto something here.

Oh, and in case you're wondering about the particular financial state of the late Sen. Lautenberg -- his recorded net worth was $56.8 million in 2012. Hardly a pauper, yet reopening our government required this money added to our overhead? Really? At that crucial time, this was what the shutdown was over? 

And add this little nugget. We also paid Jeffrey Chiesa who was appointed to fill Frank L's seat a full salary for serving until a special election could be held for a permanent replacement, Cory Booker.

Anyone smelling special treatment here? Republicans, this is what you held out for? I thought it was defunding Obamacare. You didn't get that, but you settled for this?