Congressional Term Limits: The Logical Choice


By Eric Myskowski, Senior Reporter

“No person who has served 6 terms as a Representative shall be eligible for election to the House of Representatives. No person who has served 2 terms as a Senator shall be eligible for election or appointment to the Senate.”

While instating congressional term limits would be difficult, it is not by any means impossible. It requires a constitutional amendment, so It is sometimes said that it would not be possible because a Constitutional Amendment would need a vote from 2/3rds of both houses of Congress, meaning that it would need votes from the senators whose terms would be limited, but this is not true. Even though the Constitution is normally amended through Congress (before going through the states), there are methods to amend the Constitution that do not require support from congress at all. The constitution can be amended by having two-thirds of the state legislatures call for a national constitutional convention to open. Then the amendment would be proposed at the convention and be ratified by three-quarters of all the state legislatures (or three quarters of state ratifying conventions). If the amendment is created so it only applied to future congressmen, in the way that the 21st amendment’s term limits did not apply to Harry Truman, the president in office when it was ratified, then it may be able to be amended with Congressional approval.

Congressional term-limits are necessary for many reasons. First off, the founders intended to make a system where Congressmen served for only a few terms. When Thomas Jefferson was asked about what he disliked about the Constitution, he replied that “the feature I dislike, and greatly dislike, is the abandonment in every instance of the necessity of rotation in office.” Rotation in office was the term that was used back then for term limits. Then that brings up the point though if the founding fathers wanted term-limits, then why did they not put them into the Constitution? This is because back then, it was believed that Congress was a part time job. It met only part of the year and all the congressmen had other professions like being businessmen and farmers. Term-limits were just not necessary then. They did not picture American and its political system getting to where it is today. This is in the same way that the founding fathers did not put the right of women to vote in the Constitution because society changed so much since then. Since the founding fathers are the people that created our government, is it not best to listen to them?

Also, it is almost universally true that power corrupts, so while congressmen become a bit more experienced the longer they are in office, they also become less in-tune to the people. The culture of congress is one where special interest groups are always fighting for their interests and where power, not legislation, becomes the top priority. For example, back in the 1990s, when state legislatures were creating term limits on Congressmen (until it was decided unconstitutional in the supreme court case US Term Limits v Thornton), it was the lobbyists were against them. When Michigan was attempting to pass a law putting term limits on Congressmen, the major parties against it were the Chrysler corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kellogg’s, and other big-name companies. The lobbyists and special interests knew this and wanted to hold on to their power. Despite this, the will of the people prevailed, and it passed. These lobbyists were worried that once the long-standing members were out, the people they had influence on, they knew they would lose power. The will of the people definitely wants congressional term limits because in a 2013 Gallup poll, 76 percent of eligible voters said they would be in favor of a constitutional amendment placing term limits on members of Congress. Since this country is for the people and by the people, is it time that their voices are heard? There is little difference between Republicans and Democrats in this poll and it is also interesting that a group of Republican Senators led by Ted Cruz (R-TX) and a group of democrats in the House led by Rho Khanna (D-HI) publicly support them, along with many people in between.

It could then be asked that if Congressmen are so bad, why are they not elected out? The simple reason for this is the incumbency advantage. Incumbent congressmen have an almost 90 percent chance to win reelection, not because they are necessarily the most qualified candidate, but because they have name recognition, huge amounts of funding from special interests, and money from political parties. These same special interests that have influence over them want them to stay in power, so they give huge sums of money for their campaigns, almost making it impossible to send them out. This means that the only real way for the long-time incumbent congressmen to be kicked out is through term-limits.

This then raises the question argument that term-limits only kick out the experienced members and replaces them with inexperienced people because it takes many years for congressmen to gain the experience necessary for the job. This is completely false. Before being elected, virtually all congressmen work as clerks, secretaries, or interns for congressmen in power, and learn most of the necessary information and experience before they are elected. But even if they have no experience, they still have enough time. Why is it that politicians need many years of on the job training to become experienced while almost no other job requires it? This is not necessary. They do not need this time. Almost all of the legislation is actually written up and worked on by longtime aides who know how do deal with complicated bills and nuances of procedure. Combined with previous experience working for current congressmen before they were elected and with senior members already being in Congress, it is incorrect to say that experienced members are kept out by term limits and they lead to a congress full of neophytes.

These term limits have a huge benefit for congressmen in their last term because they do not have to worry about seeking reelection. This means that they can do what is best for the country even if it is unpopular, and also actually spend time being either with their constituents or working. Tom Daschle, a now retired Senator from South Dakota, said that in the last two years of his terms, he spent 67 percent of his time fundraising, the normal amount for senators. This leaves less than a third the time for actually doing work and meeting with his constituents.  Studies have shown that Congressmen on average spend 3 hours of every day fundraising, regardless of the time in the term, and that the more senior a member, the more time they spend. Term limits would help solve this by giving Congressmen time to actually work and be with constituents, and not just fundraising for their campaigns.

Lastly, term-limits are not undemocratic but democratic. They do not really limit the choice of people running for office, but actually make it bigger. Special interests funding the campaigns of incumbent members are cut out, long-time politicians are forced out, and it lets everyone have a chance to be elected, not just the powerful incumbents. This is the most democratic principle of all, equality and the chance for everyone’s opinion to be heard.