Opinion | Finance

Federal employees get perks taxpayers can only dream of

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How many headlines have you read about the government shutdown over the last month? Considering that most of our lives have not really been affected and that federal employees will be receiving back pay, is it possible that the shutdown is not the disaster pundits declare it to be?

The minimal effects on our lives shows that our government is already far too bloated and serves as a reminder that the recipients of our tax dollars enjoy benefits well beyond the average American. Removed from the market forces at play in the rest of the country, federal employees and politicians are insulated from the effects of their own actions, while getting privileges that most private sector workers can only dream of.

Here are some of the many perks that members of Congress receive. They get an ObamaCare "gold plan" for health care and outpatient care, which is subsidized by taxpayers. Congress was also exempted by the Obama administration from paying taxes on their insurance plans, which saves each member $12,000 a year. Members of Congress are enrolled in the coveted federal pension, which is of course a lifelong retirement benefit of up to $139,200, again funded by taxpayers. The federal pension is head and shoulders better than most private pensions and even state pensions.

They have advantages on Wall Street. While stock trades using legislative information is illegal, lawmakers do not have to disclose their stock trades like the private sector thanks to a 2013 amendment. They can also leverage their political influence to sit on corporate boards. There is a reason why members of Congress have historically gained much more with their stock market returns than the average household.

Moreover, members of Congress get death benefits of at least $174,000. That is almost double the death benefits for troops killed in service. The death benefits act as a guaranteed life insurance policy that the rest of us would have to pay into for years to receive. Furthermore, our politicians have a schedule of just 138 work days a year on average. In 2012, it was just 126 days including only one full five day week. Despite the part time schedule, members of Congress receive a $174,000 annual salary, more than three times the average salary for Americans who work full time.

Congress also gets $4 million annually to spend on office supplies as well as $250,000 annually to spend on mass mailings. This includes sending information to constituents about their work and is essentially a campaign contribution funded by taxpayers. Lawmakers enjoy free parking spaces and airline travel on most trips. In 2016 alone, these flights cost taxpayers about $1.5 million for 535 members. Of course, some of the most lucrative benefits of being in Congress come after leaving office, as a significant portion of retired members of Congress become lobbyists. Those who become lobbyists can earn an average of more than $2 million annually.

Federal workers also enjoy a sweet deal. Here are some of their perks. They make wildly above market compensation. Federal workers receive pay that is 17 percent higher than private sector employees on average performing comparable work. That is on top of putting in 12 percent fewer hours. Furthermore, a Princeton University study found that when "taking differences in employee characteristics into account," federal workers actually earn 34 percent more than comparable private sector workers.

They receive "cadillac" federal employees health benefits, 75 percent of which is subsidized. These plans includes medical plus vision and dental benefits. On top of that, federal retirees are eligible for covered health benefits at 57 years old, a rare luxury in the private sector. They also have generous pension plans and Social Security benefits. Such payments are three times higher than private sector 401(k) and Social Security benefits.

It is also worth noting that federal workers face a 0.2 percent chance of getting fired in a given year. That is more than 45 times lower than their private sector counterparts. In some cases, it takes the effort from four different agencies to fire federal employees, and the process often takes years, even in simple cases. This shield protects public employees who are cited for malfeasance or incompetence. Meanwhile, a Brookings Institution study found that 65 percent of federal employees think job security is more important than helping the public, while only 30 percent think their organization does a good job disciplining poor performers.

During this protracted government shutdown, the media would have you believe that federal workers are eating cat food while on furlough. For most of those affected by the shutdown, they get most of January off with guaranteed full back pay when the government reopens. When a private business is affected by a closure or new federal mandates, how many of its employees get time off and full back pay? Washington was envisioned as a respite for public servants, so both federal employees and members of Congress should be saying thanks to their lucky stars for the continued beneficence of taxpayers instead of blaming each other for the shutdown.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and author of "How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off." Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.

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