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Exiting Lawmakers Retain Parking Access and Other Congressional Perks

Customs, courtesies and Congress

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other outgoing lawmakers still get quite a few perks. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other outgoing lawmakers still get quite a few perks. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Don’t worry, outgoing members can still snag prime Hill parking spots.

Following the lame-duck session, lawmakers exiting Congress in January will retain some member privileges, fitness center access, some postage rights, and parking among them. But there are limitations, especially for former lawmakers that take lobbying gigs.

Former lawmakers have continued access to the floor of the chamber where they served, and senators who have not served in the House are traditionally granted House access as well. However, that access is revoked if the former member becomes a lobbyist or an “agent of foreign principal,” meaning someone who advocates on behalf of foreign governments, political parties or organizations.

When lawmakers are visiting the floor, they won’t have to hunt for parking. They have access to the House and Senate parking lots.

“Some [privileges] are derived from law and chamber rules, but others are courtesies that have been extended as a matter of custom,” according to a Congressional Research Service report on privileges and courtesies for former members.

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For just 90 days immediately after they leave office, members can use the franking privilege to send official mail to constituents related to closing their offices. 

Congressional Research Service reports are also available to former members, though they can no longer request the CRS conduct original research on their behalf. Former members of Congress can also obtain a permanent identification card from the clerk of the House or the Senate sergeant-at-arms, and become members of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress.

Reunions over a meal are made easy, with the House and Senate members dining rooms open to former members. 

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who’s known for using the House gym to do intense workouts and washing up after sleeping in his office, will be able to use the gym when he’s back in town. There is a fee for former members to use the House and Senate gyms, however.

Ryan was on board with the effort earlier this year to eliminate one prime perk that could benefit him. Since 1970, House speakers have been entitled to a Capitol Hill office for five years after they retire or leave Congress. Appropriators, with backing from both Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is also a former speaker, sought to eliminate the office funding.

“Taxpayers should not be on the hook to fund an office for former speakers,” said Nita M. Lowey of New York, the top Democratic appropriator.

The move to eliminate the benefit was eased because no former speakers are currently maintaining such an office. John A. Boehner gave up his Capitol Hill digs in 2016 when he joined the firm of Squire Patton Boggs later that year.

The relic of a bygone era for many American workers, former members of Congress receive a pension. The value of the pension varies depending on the years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. That means lawmakers with long tenures in leadership will keep the pay bump those positions earn. A member’s pension cannot exceed 80 percent of their final salary.

Former lawmakers are eligible for a pension at 62 if they served at least five years, 50 if they served 20 years, or any age if they served more than 25 years.

Outgoing members will have to stay within some bounds to ensure they are eligible for a pension. A 2007 law bars members convicted of a felony involving perjury, witness tampering, bribery and fraud from receiving pensions.

There were 611 retired members of Congress receiving federal pensions based in part or fully on their congressional service at the start of fiscal year 2017.

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