When New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away from complications resulting from viral pneumonia, it was the end of an era. He was the last remaining veteran of World War II still serving in the Senate, called the “last of the New Deal Democrats.” While he spent much of his live in service to his country, he was also the first salesman for payroll management giant Automatic Data Processing or ADP and, at the time of his death, was one of the wealthiest Senators.
With Congress in the midst of a brutal financial battle that might result in a government shutdown, policy director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Daniel Shuman noticed that a line item was added to the latest spending bill paying $174,000 to Sen. Lautenberg’s widow Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg. The payment, a death benefit paid to surviving spouses or family members in the event of a Senator’s death, seems particularly excessive given the Senator’s personal wealth and the current spending climate in Congress.
Shuman writes, “Congress just voted to cut food stamps for poor children.” He also asks, “How is this a top funding priority?” He then calls for an end to the death benefit altogether. “Representatives and senators are in a better position to plan for their financial future. The average member of Congress is much wealthier than the average citizen….”
Ironically, Senator Lautenberg would have most likely supported Shuman’s assertion, considering his voting record supported initiatives that helped poor Americans, especially after the financial crash in 2008. His constituents remember him fondly and a memorial tribute was held in Paterson, New Jersey at the Great Falls on September 9, 2013. The Senator was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in June. A special election to fill his seat will take place on October 16.