The idea of term limits keeps bubbling up.
A recent proposal in the U.S. Senate seeks an amendment to the Constitution that would limit a representative to three terms (six years) and a senator to two terms (12 years.)
Not going to happen. It requires the support of too many in Congress who seem to prefer unlimited power. Not limits on power.
The problem is clear. The solution is fuzzy.
It’s not enough to say that we have term limits through voting. We have incumbency retention days. It’s the day that citizens vote for the name most recognized, thanks to media and money advantages that incumbents possess. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that during the 2016 election, about 87% of U.S. senators and 97% of U.S. representatives were re-elected.
And, yes, some decades-serving politicians have done a good job at representing their constituents. But they’re replaceable. Others are capable of leading. Washington should not be the permanent home for either the corrupt or the capable. Our founding fathers believed in self-government through citizen representatives, not career politicians.
We can’t count on incumbents of either political party to institute term limits. In Senate Report 104-158—a failed attempt to pass term limits about 25 years ago—it was shared that Rep. Thomas Tucker offered the very first term limit proposal in 1789. Also unsuccessful.
Sometimes, a good idea fails because it’s taken to the extreme. We go overboard.
This latest Senate proposal makes the same mistake that the 104th Congress made. Back then, its authors would have been happy with limiting representatives to six terms (12 years) and senators to two terms (12 years.) But when the current starting point is unlimited terms, negotiating it down to 6-12 years is a bit harsh.
Members of Congress who opposed these short term limits railed against them, in part, because of the time, money and energy it takes to run for public office and then govern. Many step away from successful careers or businesses when they travel to Washington.
A more reasonable approach could help. Even increasing limits to nine terms (18 years) for representatives and three terms (18 years) for senators could make the proposal more agreeable. If you begin your career in the House with a newborn and end it with a high school graduate, it would be hard to say that you just didn’t have enough time to serve.
And if you like it that much, challenge a Senate seat and stay in Washington for another 18 years if you can swing it.
What’s important is the constant awareness of limited time to accomplish what’s important to your constituents, instead of unlimited time to pander to special interest groups.
Back in 1995, congressional proponents of term limits stated, “One reason the people seek term limits is they perceive a stunning lack of political courage in Washington. In their eyes, Congress cannot even vote to balance the government checkbook…To many Americans, the system is broken. The difficult vote to end wasteful programs is not cast because re-election depends on helping some special interest. Without term limits, there may never be the political courage to solve the nations’ most difficult problems.”
That’s as true today, as it was in 1995.
If we can’t get term limits through a constitutional amendment, perhaps we should just start a new political party where candidates agree to serve just 18 years in the House and/or 18 years in the Senate. We can call it the “Term Limiter” party. Voters who support term limits are likely people who want basic, common-sense governing in all areas. It’d be a great home for someone who doesn’t want to be a Socialist-leaning Democrat or a Libertarian-leaning Republican.
Be a “Limiter.”
Who’s with me?