Q&A Friday #31: What About Term Limits?

Question: “Congressional Term Limits…How can we realistically expect elected officials to impose them? What are the pro’s and con’s? What are our options? How do we put a stop to the current circus and restore respectability to the legislative branch?” — Scotty_iraq

Answer: Putting Term Limits on Congress is tough for two reasons: because it would likely take a Constitutional Amendment to get them through and because Congressmen would be voting themselves out of office.

Here’s a possible solution: make it so that the Term Limits only apply to newly elected members of Congress. That way the old guard can support them and get credit for being reformers without having to worry about it costing them their jobs.

That being said, Constitutional Amendments are always difficult to get passed through so it would take a massive grassroots effort, a presidential candidate making it part of their platform, something to jumpstart the effort and give it a chance to happen.

As far as the pros go, in many districts and states our Congress has in effect ceased to be a democratic body, particularly in the House. If you’re a Congressman sitting in a district that has been gerrymandered to be 60% Republican or Democrat, you have such a big advantage over any primary challengers or opponents from the other party that it’s essentially a lifetime job if you want it in most cases. There tend to be more competitive races in the Senate, but even there, in every election cycle, the majority of Senators don’t have competitive races. That’s a problem because it leads to career politicians, who are more prone to corruption and less in tune with voters, which is something the Founding Fathers never intended. That’s why regularly getting new blood in Washington is so important.

As far as the cons go, there are trade-offs. Even if you had a good representative, he’d have to leave after, let’s say, 2 terms in the Senate or two in the House. Of course, I’d say that numbers wise, there are a lot more mediocre and average career reps than great ones in Congress and as a country, we’d benefit from their being cycled out.

The argument could also be made that the experience level in our Congress would drop. Again, I don’t find that to be a convincing argument because I believe serving the people in Congress may be a difficult job, but there are countless people who are up to the job (even if they don’t have what it takes to get elected). In my personal opinion, you could replace Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, and Joe Biden with randomly selected 50-year-old Democratic cops, business men, or soldiers and chances are it would be a big improvement. Honestly, that’s probably true for 80% of the people in Congress on both sides of the aisle.

So, in my view, the sooner we add terms for Congress, to go along with the Term Limits on the President, the better government we’ll have for this country.

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