Kelley & Co, Mike Coffman, 8/26/2011

Station: 710 KNUS

Show: Kelley & Co.

Guest: Coffman


Date: 8/26/2011

Topics: Debt ceiling, Congressional Pensions, Deficit.

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KELLEY: Congressman, good morning sir. How are you?

COFFMAN: Hey how you guys doing, I’m doing great.

KELLEY: We are having a good time here. In essence, what is the bill that you are proposing here. I really want to know what this Cadillac program consists of.  But first let’s start with what your bill is proposing.

COFFMAN: What the legislation is proposing and I will introduce it as soon as I get back to the Congress after the Labor Day recess, it is to do away with the pension system for members of Congress that they can earn while serving.

KELLEY: Do it away completely?

COFFMAN: Do away with it completely.

KELLEY: Really?  Also a 10 percent pay cut I am told.

COFFMAN: I have done that in a prior bill. It was about a 10 percent pay cut for members of Congress and that bill is still pending before the Congress. It cuts congressional staff and it also does a two-week nonconsecutive furlough for federal employees. Quite frankly, that probably won’t do very far.

KELLEY: I would say, you are a popular guy. No doubt about that.

COFFMAN: I am popular guy on Capitol Hill, let me tell you. I need combat pay when I go back up there. I think the congressional retirement thing is going to have legs. Because I think that the American people are pretty tired of it. Having served in both the Army and Marine Corps, I know from a leadership perspective that you should never ask anybody to do something that you yourself would be unwilling to do. And we are going to be asking the American people who get back into this negotiations of the debt crisis to make sacrifices. So I think it would be leadership by example for Congress to do away with this pension system.

KELLEY: I think that it is an excellent idea. You really have any… they always basically say it is the fox guarding the hen house. Do you really think that people are going to vote themselves a non-pension?  I mean vote a pension out?

COFFMAN: Here is what will happen. And certainly members of Congress will continue to pay into Social Security. There is a federal thrift savings program that they can pay into. But what we call a defined benefit pension plan that says if you serve so many years, you get a certain percentage of your salary. That is what I want to do away with.

KELLEY: Yea, define that. What exactly is it?  Talk about that Cadillac program. What do you get as a member of Congress? I do believe you have yet, have you? Have you been in five years?

COFFMAN: No, you have to be in five years to be vested in the program. Then its, from this time you start though, it’s 1.7 percent for every year you are in. So if somebody you were to be an Congress for 10 years, obviously 17 percent, 20 years is 34 percent. And once you get beyond the 20-year mark, it is 1 percent after that. Members of Congress do contribute 1.3 percent of their salary towards the pension system. So obviously by doing away with the pension system, members can certainly keep that money.

KELLEY: What is the current salary of a United States Senator or Congressman?

COFFMAN: $174,000 a year.

KELLEY: So this is real money that we are talking about. I am told by a number people, because you don’t really, relatively speaking, you could make a lot more in the private sector. I think you would agree, would you not?

COFFMAN: You could but I think that’s not the people we’re looking for to be in the Congress. I don’t think that we are looking for people that this is going to be their career and they’re going to be dependent on the retirement system from this career.  I think what we want in terms of people running for Congress is people that have been successful in doing something else and then they go into the Congress to serve the people of the United States and not certainly themselves.

KELLEY: Would you agree that many are in for that very reason? Because hey, the power and the prestige and all that. But on top of all that, it is a pretty nice retirement package.

COFFMAN: There are certainly better ones in the public sector throughout this country and those need to be looked at as well. Again set the example for the American people and lets just do away with it so it’s not the subject. When I go to a town meeting people would raise it up and say…and of course their perception was that it was more generous than it is, I think that the American people do not want to see their members of Congress drawing a retirement at the taxpayers expense. I think it’s wrong and I think that members can put their money in a 401(k) just like the average American without having some guarantee at the taxpayers expense again. Albeit this is not as generous as a lot of public sector pension plans.

KELLEY: Do you have a co-sponsor on the Senate side or do you have friend there that is going to push this forward?

COFFMAN: Its just being drafted now and we will drop it when we go back. My hope is this, my hope is that this gain traction to the point where when members of Congress go into their town halls meetings when they are back home in their districts, that there are constituents who say, “Hey, what aren’t you  signed onto this bill?” And then it becomes also a part of campaigns. To say that somebody is running against a incumbent member of Congress and say, “Hey, why don’t you support ending your pension? And so I am hoping that…I really hope given the fact that the issues are so tough facing this country. The  fiscal pressures are so tough. I don’t think that this is a big deal in my view for Congress to give this up.

KELLEY: It’s a statement. A strong statement to be made.

COFFMAN: It is really a statement to the American people that we’ve got skin in the game along with you.

KELLEY: When you go back…When do you go back by the away?

COFFMAN: We go back right after Labor Day.

KELLEY: OK. What is…obviously this is a priority for you, what is the number 1 priority? We always hear generically, the economy and jobs and all that. What is going to be the battle in this, and lets face it, it’s a election year. So what is number 1 on your list?

COFFMAN: I think that the reality, as long as, quite frankly, we have this president in the White House and we have economic policies that came out of the first two years of his presidency where he had a Democratic-controlled Congress that he could put his agenda forward. As long as those policies are in place, I don’t think that we are going to have job growth in this country. So I think, certainly trying to change those and I think the 2012 election is going to be a referendum on that as well. We are in the middle of the debt crisis and we are going to have to confront some very ugly challenges when we go back. And we will be right back into that debate again about how to contain spending and how to bring down the deficit.

KELLEY: And we will have conversations about that. Just before we go, one comment on the Super Congress, is that constitutional?  Do you back that, letting 12 people decide what you, 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate, should be deciding?

COFFMAN: Well, first of all, I do support it and think it is constitutional. It doesn’t preclude other members outside of that 12 member committee from coming up with proposals and introducing legislation on how to solve the debt crisis.  They are structured as a joint committee along the lines of what we did with the base realignment closer process, were the Defense Department could never close a base, no matter how unnecessary it was, anywhere in the United States because it was always in some congressional member district.  And so they developed a system where a commission would come up with the list of bases to be closed and it couldn’t be amended and it had to be done in an up or down vote. And bases started to close.  So the way this committee structure, it is a joint committee of the Congress. 7 members from the committee can vote out the proposal and there were rules associated where it could not be amended and it has to be an up or down vote. It is something to help the process move along. But we are not relegated at all, first of all to vote for it and secondly that negotiations on proposals could occur outside of that.

KELLEY: I sit here and try to look at it objectively and yet when you put together a committee, we had that commission put together by this president and he ignored everything.

COFFMAN: Well that was advisory. This is more than advisory. It is a joint committee in the Congress that is established between the House in the Senate.

KELLEY: And if they don’t vote, 50 percent of the defense budget is cut, 50 percent of Medicaid, Medicare is cut. Everybody has skin in that too, so it could yield some benefit.

COFFMAN: We have already, in a way, out of the first debt agreement came, in effect, the second one. So we already have a default agreement in terms of cuts. So if we failed to arrive at an agreement that would be better than that, obviously, then on November 23rd goes to that default $1.2 trillion in cuts.

KELLEY: That trigger, yea. Congressman Mike Coffman, we will let you go. It is actually a good thing you’re not in D.C., especially this weekend with Irene on the way. So, we do appreciate you taking some time out to talk to us on Kelley and Co.

COFFMAN: Hey thanks. Any day that I’m not in D.C. is a good day.

KELLEY: That is the quote of the morning now.