Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, two years ago promised not to take a congressional pension until key entitlement programs were secured for years into the future.
In addition to underscoring his support for reinforcing Medicare and Social Security, Bera's pledge also helped draw a contrast in his grudge match with Dan Lungren, who is entitled to taxpayer-funded retirement benefits from service in state and federal office.
As Bera prepares for a tough reelection bid in the 7th district, his office announced Thursday that he's made good on that oath, issuing a check for $4,915 to the U.S. Treasury Bureau of the Public Debt. The sum reflects the amount he accrued in pension benefits last year.
In a prepared statement, Bera said the country must honor the promises it made to parents and grandparents to provide them with the health care they need and a dignified retirement after a lifetime of work.
"My constituents should not be forced to pay for my retirement when many of their own retirements are still vulnerable," he said. "That's why I have pledged to not take a congressional pension until Medicare and Social Security are secure for this and future generations."
Bera's pledge could again put a Republican opponent in a difficult spot. His GOP challengers include former Rep. Doug Ose and congressional aide Igor Birman.
Ose, 58, estimates he will be eligible to receive about a $1,200 monthly pension when he turns 62. He has declined to make any pledges about his pension or congressional pay.
"I am going to be in front of the voters every two years and they are going to say 'yea' or 'nay' for another two years," he said in a recent interview.
Birman, 32 and on leave as chief of staff to Rep. Tom McClintock, said that while enrollment for congressional staff members is mandatory, he has not worked the necessary five years for pension benefits to vest.
Birman called it "commendable" that Bera returned his retirement benefits to the taxpayers, contrasting that with his chief GOP rival, Ose, who he noted is a multimillionaire.
"As a member of Congress, I will likewise decline to participate in the pension system for the duration of my service," Birman said.
A spokesman for Elizabeth Emken, also a Republican, said she is not eligible for any government pensions and has made no pledges about congressional pensions or pay raises.
PHOTO: Ami Bera greets campaign supporters at the Elks Lodge in Carmichael, Calif. on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. (The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo)