Give Me A Break: Chris Cuomo Takes On Congressional Perks

PHOTO: A 20-year member of Congress who is at least 62-years-old collects over $50,000 a year for life.
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For all the talk from those in Congress about how we all have to tighten our belts and make do with what we have, you would expect your lawmakers to follow suit. But this is a case of actions speaking louder than words.

The percentage of private sector workers with pensions dropped from 84 percent to 34 percent over the last three decades. Congress, on the other hand, has a better pension plan than just about anybody.

A 20-year member of Congress who is at least 62-years-old collects over $50,000 a year for life. Private sector employees collect an average of $16,000 annually. Congress members are also eligible for pensions at 50-years-old if they've completed 20 years of service. If they've served more than 20 years, they can collect their pension despite their age.

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ABC News went down to Washington D.C. to get some answers. Rep. Dan Lungren, who chairs a committee where two bills are stuck, wouldn't agree to a formal interview but told us in a hurry that the pension bills are one of many that his committee is reviewing.

"I'm working on a whole host of things across the board. We don't hide anything. We just look at all those that have been presented to us," said Rep. Lungren.

But there are some who have been fighting the good fight for decades. Representative Howard Coble has sponsored bill after bill for the last 28 years to reign in congressional pensions. He's even opted out of the pension plan.

"When I realize how much money I'm missing by having turned it down, I start sweating," he says.

Rep. Coble said taxpayers already pay his salary and he doesn't believe they should be responsible for a lavish pension.

Members of Congress also receive better pensions than any other federal employee. The Federal Employee Retirement System was designed to provide larger benefits for each year of service for Congress members because of the uncertain tenure of congressional service, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The CRS also notes that members of Congress become eligible at an earlier age and with fewer years of service than most other federal employees.

Though, not all hope is lost for Rep. Coble and those who support his cause. Representative Dennis Ross seems to be joining Coble's bandwagon.

"I would love to see it get up out of committee and on the floor. I think the American people are craving credibility in their elected officials," Rep. Ross says.

However, Rep. Ross is the chair of a subcommittee that has yet to act on a pension reform bill. He said the bill has not been a top priority but promised he will soon act on it.

Leslie Paige, Vice President of Policy and Communications for the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste does not believe the issue should rest with Congress alone.

"The push is going to have to come from the taxpayers. The taxpayers are going to have to say, 'give me a break,'" says Paige.

In this case though, it would appear government is taking action. Rep. Ross made good on his promise and says a hearing on pension reform will take place before the end of January.

Is it too little, too late?

Watch the full story on "20/20"

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