Ex-Congressman Keith Has a Solution to the Pension Problem: He's Giving Uncle Sam a Small Refund

UPDATED 12/13/1982 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/13/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

As former Massachusetts Congressman Hastings Keith ruefully admits, it seemed like a good idea at the time. During seven House terms (1959-1973) the Republican from West Bridgewater, near Boston, voted to increase the pensions of federal employees—including, naturally, Congressmen. And when he retired Keith was thrilled: "My reaction was, 'Gosh! How lucky can I be?' " Answer: so lucky that today he and his wife, Bland, an ex-CIA worker, together collect approximately $77,000 a year from Uncle Sam, or $34,500 more than he earned his last year in Congress. But the monthly jackpots brought Keith a sense of mounting unease. "It gradually dawned on me," he says, "that my pensions are actually causing inflation by trying to stay ahead of it." Keith then took an unthinkable step: Last February he offered to return a part of his pension to the government.

Early last spring he was turned down when he tried to force a refund on a Treasury official. But on Nov. 23, after a belated okay from Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, Keith proudly handed the U.S. Treasury a personal check for $974—equivalent to one month's payment of his pension for 25 years in the Army and National Guard.

"I'm triple-dipping—I have a bucket in three different pension wells," Keith, 67, explains. His biggest bucket brings up $44,600 for his House years, but he also draws $11,688 for his military service, plus $8,900 in Social Security. His wife's pension brings in another $12,000. Moreover, Keith estimates he contributed only $47,800 toward his retirement, and got it all back in two years.

The giveback dramatizes Keith's crusade for reforms of "ruinously high" federal pensions. Now that the publicity gesture is over, he will donate his military pension to the National Committee on Public Employee Pension Systems, the pressure group he co-founded this year with the aim of ending excessive payments to people like himself. Naturally, Keith will be taking a tax deduction on the payments, but he says, "Our proposals would cut out all the double-dipping"—necessary medicine for a system he says is $1 trillion in debt. "We're mugging our children and grandchildren. I want a retirement system that provides for the cost of living, not the cost of living it up."

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