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Will Tea Party hero pass up fat federal pension?

Jim DeMint has built a reputation as perhaps the Senate’s foremost small government champion.
Jim DeMint: \"the CEO of the conservative movement\"(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
Jim DeMint: \"the CEO of the conservative movement\"

Jim DeMint has built a reputation as perhaps the Senate’s foremost small government champion. So, will he save taxpayers money by declining to cash in the roughly $37,000-per-year federal pension he’ll be in line to start receiving next year? He won’t say.

DeMint’s office hasn’t responded to multiple inquiries since Thursday from about whether he’ll accept his pension, now that he’s announced he’s leaving the Senate to run the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

It’s not likely DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, will need the money. Ed Feulner, the man DeMint will replace as Heritage’s president, earned a salary of more than $1 million in 2010, records show.

Declining the payout would be consistent with DeMint’s concern about government debt. A 2010 Congressional Research Service study found that U.S. government pension programs had a shortfall of $674.2 billion, and the program has been eyed as a cost-cutting target.

DeMint has been at the forefront of the movement to raise concerns about other debt-burdened government pension systems, leading the opposition to efforts to bail out underfunded state pension programs.

“Out of political self-interest, state and local politicians have given public sector unions much higher wages and more generous benefits than their private sector counterparts, all at the expense of current and future taxpayers,” noted a 2011 report by the Republican Joint Economic Committee, authored by DeMint and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas).

The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) routinely calculates the value of retiring lawmakers’ pensions, which it sees as overly generous. Using government formulas which the group provided to, DeMint., who served a total of 14 years in Congress, would be in line for an annual payout worth $37,300 when he turns 62 next year. It would rise in future years due to cost-of-living adjustments, NTU said.

When Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress in disgrace last year after admitting to sending lewd pictures to a college student, NTU calculated that he’d be in line for a pension worth $46,224 annually, starting at age 62. Newt Gingrich takes in over $100,000 per year, Bloomberg reported in January.

Some lawmakers have said publicly that they plan to decline their federal pensions. Asked whether DeMint had done so, his office again did not respond.

Congressional pensions are generally two or three times more generous than pensions for comparable private sector workers, according to NTU. They’re also more generous than those for most federal workers making the same amount of money. That’s even though lawmakers are typically far better-placed to find lucrative post-government employment—as DeMint’s job with Heritage shows.