Congressional Term Limits: An Idea as Irresponsible as it is Improbable


By Robert Mullins, Assistant Reporter

We are only in the very beginning of the 116th Congress, and already, freshmen legislators have hosted a new plague to haunt the halls of the Capitol: an epidemic of terrible ideas. These ideas range from unrealistically ambitious, to downright implausible. Obviously, the most talked-about example of this would be the “Green New Deal” proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), but a lesser-known example of this would be that of congressional term limits. This idea has been proposed by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, each of them freshmen.
The proposal works in such a way that it would limit House members to six two-year terms, and Senators to two six-year terms, for a total of twelve years maximum in either house of Congress. Advocates argue that these limits would allow lawmakers to make unpopular yet necessary decisions, without the constant fear of voter retaliation at the ballot box.

The crux of the argument for term limits is that the regulars of Washington, with their corrupt and conniving ways, will corrupt even the most well-intentioned lawmakers. The only way to prevent this, according to those who have backed this proposal, is to nip it in the bud and use the Constitution to place a limit on the time our elected officials can stay in power.

Believers in the cause of these term limits further contend that lawmakers whose primary concern is public policy rather than re-election will be more effective legislators, who will be more resistant to the lobbying efforts of special interest groups. Much of the reasoning for these restrictions make sense. Yet despite its popular support, the imposition of term limits is a terrible idea that would have a wide range of negative effects on Congress.

The first and most obvious effect term limits would have on Congress is that it would kick out its most effective legislators. No matter how effective or knowledgeable a member may be, their experience and time spent mastering the ins and outs of writing complicated legislation will become a moot point simply because their time has run out. Members of Congress who are restricted by these term limits are then forced to ask themselves, what is the return on the investment of time on their part to learn the nuances of legislative procedure, when they will simply be pushed aside for new blood when that mastery is attained?

A more substantial argument against congressional term limits restricting the power of members of Congress would be the restrictions they place on the voter. A core tenet of our American democracy is that we get to choose our representatives. A voter’s choices are restricted the moment a person’s name is forcibly removed from being on the ballot.

Still, proponents argue, term limits will discourage members of Congress from being election oriented and reduce the amount of influence lobbyists and special interest groups have over members of Congress. However, this has been disproven by studies done on state governments and even foreign governments experimenting with term limits has shown that when an inexperienced lawmaker is not knowledgeable about an issue, they seek to rectify this with an increased dependence on special interests and lobbyists telling them the best way to vote. This means that the problem that advocates claim congressional term limits would solve are in fact made worse by this proposed solution.

Now that I’ve used this space to deconstruct the argument for congressional term limits, you may find yourself asking what the best solution would be for a problem as large as corruption in Congress. What can you do as an average citizen? The answer is simple: vote! Instead of relying on unnecessary rules to force experienced workers out of a job, we as citizens should rely on the most basic method of forcing out inadequate, substandard members of Congress. That is, through the process of elections.