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Term Limits – Old Wine in New Bottles?

Posted on Thursday, January 28, 2021
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by AMAC, Jeff Szymanski
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40 Comments
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Stop ten people on the street and ask if they support term limits for members of Congress. You’ll get eleven votes in favor. You’d also get an earful from folks on the issue and what they think of Congress in general. And note, it matters not which party controls that branch.

Gallup polls Americans monthly by asking, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?”  The Dec 2020 response was 15% approve 82% disapprove.  https://news.gallup.com/poll/1600/congress-public.aspx  Interestingly, in only one month since summer 2009 did Congress ever hit 30% approval.  With marks like these one would expect lots of congressional turnover.  We hear lines like “throw the bums out” every two years.

But alas, members don’t get defeated as you would expect.  The power of incumbency is strong with over 90% of House incumbents winning another term in every election year but one since 1994.    https://www.opensecrets.org/elections-overview/reelection-rates  What few seats do change hands (whether they change parties or not) are open seats, meaning no incumbent is running due to retirement, resignation, or a death.

Do you see the contradiction?  We detest Congress as an institution but keep sending the same bodies back every two years, to the House at least, only to criticize them once they get there and be disappointed all over again.  Of course, this phenomenon is not new.  Political scientists have been studying and writing about it for decades.  It’s the old “I hate Congress but love my Congressman.”  Think of it.  If you’re a conservative and have a GOP Congressman, you almost certainly like him/her and don’t want that particular person going anywhere.  So, that means everyone else’s Congressman must be the problem.

No wonder term limits wins in nearly every poll ever asked.  It’s a way to save us from ourselves and “doing the dirty work” of throwing our own well-liked House member out at any two year interval.  Better they all be forced to hit the road after say six, eight, or twelve years maximum.

Would a term limits rule, law, or constitutional amendment for Congress make sense?  After all, the president is limited to two terms.  We don’t want a permanent executive.  The answer is maybe.  This is not a dodge but an acknowledgement that there are two (or more) sides, and one must be careful what one wishes for.

First, some truth in advertising.  I personally have no strong position on term limits.  I’ve probably gone back and forth more on this than any issue in my life.  If you forced me to take a side, I’d probably say I favor them.  New blood is good.  A new broom sweeps clean.  Fresh perspectives are important.  You get the idea.

The most basic argument is that we already have term limits.  They’re called elections.  House members have two year term limits and Senators six year term limits.  We the voters make the conscious choice to extend or reject at election time.  Of course this is easily countered with the incumbent advantage argument.  Indeed, members themselves write the rules that help get them reelected.  The franking privilege is but one—members can send unlimited free mail telling you all the wonderful things they’ve done.  It’s campaign propaganda sent out free.  That is true.  No regular candidate gets this.  Then there’s free air time and the huge campaign war chests.

So maybe the issue is campaign finance reform then.  It’ll level the playing field some.  Others argue for public financing of elections.  That’s a subject for another article, but don’t hold your breath that Congress will pass anything to disadvantage itself.

An argument against term limits is it takes time for members to learn the ropes and to develop expertise in our undoubtedly big, complex federal government with its myriad of programs and regulations.  Members’ staffs do much of the work helping constituents navigate veterans’ benefits, immigration issues, Social Security, and the like, and it takes them time to get up to speed as well.

Few know this but since 1994 House Republicans have self-imposed term limits on their own caucus.  It states, “No member can lead a committee for more than six years unless they obtain a waiver from the Republican Steering Committee.  Time served as both ranking member and chair count toward the six-year limit.”  Democrats have no such rule.  More in the GOP are starting to question if this rule is self-defeating, as it may drive some to depart Congress earlier than they might otherwise.

Finally, taking a position on term limits is a tough one for an organization like AMAC that lobbies on Capitol Hill.  We polled on it many years ago, and predictably members favored the idea.  We even wrote about our support.  But to advocate for the position means dictating that members leave Congress earlier that they would like when we need their good will and support to advance legislation in the best interest of mature Americans.  And there’s the rub.

Given the difficult issues facing our country at this time, it doesn’t appear likely term limits will advance any time soon.  But that doesn’t mean the issue is dead.  Voters have only so much patience with an issue that consistently has majority support.  Therefore, only time will tell when it is appropriate to open this old wine in a new bottle and finally enjoy it.

Jeff Szymanski works in political communications for AMAC, a senior benefits organization with over 2.3 million members.

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Al Perpente
Al Perpente
3 years ago

time for most of the old and out of tune people to go ! term limits ? HELL YES ! i cannot believe these people get paid the amount of money they do for doing little or nothing ! the must do what the people want and not to push their own opinions !. buy your own pension and make them subscribe to social security and medicare al they rest of us have to do ! you cant tell a business owner how to run his business when you have never held a real job in your life! TERM LIMITS LOWER PAY OR HOURLY PAY TOO MUCH VACATION AND INACTIVITY ! if we normal people did the amount of work these useless people do we would have been fired ! invest in their own pension plan, stop the bleeding money to them. they are supposed to work for us not their pocketbooks. how many millionaires are made on our dime in congress ? too many crooks

Don
Don
3 years ago

Why hasn’t someone in the house or senate or someone, started impeachment proceedings against pelosi
Or the basement hider?

Michael Morgan
Michael Morgan
3 years ago

Never going to happen unless we gat a National Mandate that these slugs can’t vote on.

Nina Rae
Nina Rae
3 years ago

Considering the results of our recent Presidential Election I do not think you can believe the result of ANY election. Once a candidate is in office, if they’re following the ‘party line’ & producing as expected the Party will see to it that they are re-elected, repeatedly! That seems to be the name of their game. If they can scam a National Presidential election they can certainly handle the Locals!

Jason
Jason
3 years ago

Great article

Kim
Kim
3 years ago

I used to think elections served effectively as term limits. Now, I don’t, because people simply re-elect the names they’re familiar with or they vote for the R or the D. Most of us don’t do the research required to determine whether a candidate is worthy of our votes, or dismiss the need to do this by claiming “They’re all crooks”. Political self-flagellation… Doesn’t getting rid of old wood clear the forest and prevent conflagrations?

Cycling through politicians more often, as this country used to do, could help us arrive earlier at the “more perfect union” envisioned by the Founding Fathers. When old timer career politicians, such as Pelosi, Schumer, Leahy, Frank, and Biden hang in there decade after decade, I feel we’re stalling, stumbling, not moving ahead. This makes many of us feel disenfranchised or alienated, as if our votes didn’t count. New blood = new ideas. And good ideas will sell.

Public financing of elections? No way! Why would we fork over our money to help the opposition? Does this fall into the category of “fairness”? Silly notion. Good candidates will be recognized and supported, but, in future elections, we need to come together to help them financially. We can’t keep leaving it up to those few who do contribute to campaigns. (At Sperling’s Best Places, you can see the data showing numbers of R and D contributors and the average amounts donated in each locality. D’s tend to contribute in greater numbers, although R’s give higher amounts, in the towns I’ve looked.) My point is that in order to regularly bring in qualified candidates from the private sector, with all their valuable experience, we need to support them, and we need to listen to their proposals. For me, bring on term limits.

Mel
Mel
3 years ago

Mandatory term limits in Congress is needed. After all the highest office in the country is limited to two terms(Presidents). No one needs more years in office than our Presidents. Nobody!

Scott Deatherage
Scott Deatherage
3 years ago

I’ve heard your arguments against term limits 25 years or so ago in Missouri. Right before Missouri passed term limits. The ” learning curve” argument doesn’t hold water BECAUSE every new legislator like Congressman get a staff of assistants that have been in the game for years!!!! Those assistants do all the work anyway!!! Term limits would cut a lot of the pork Congress wastes our money on. Well at least feed it to a different group of people!!!

James R Boling
James R Boling
3 years ago

The problem with allowing elections to work as term limits comes down to choice. Generally, the incumbent runs time after time and depending upon the political party in power and the general political belief of their constituents, they get elected repeatedly. Why is that? From my perspective, I’d rather re-elect an incumbent than vote for a candidate of a different political party. Rarely is the incumbent challenged in the primary, so the choices are limited, hence term limits would require a new candidate in my party of choice rather than the need to re-elect the incumbent.

American Believer
American Believer
3 years ago

I support term limits. One term for Senators, two terms for Congressional Representatives. I also support financial reform, allowing only funds from within the state or district the candidates wish to represent. Of course, this is just a fantasy because we all know no one in politics, local, state, or national, has the people’s interests at heart. Actually they desire the power and can only succeed by falling in line with national party goals.
always remember their mantra, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help…myself “

JoeRox
JoeRox
3 years ago

Problem is if there is NOT a good candidate to oppose the incumbent, you probably will NOT vote for the other party.

Dennis Jackson Sr
Dennis Jackson Sr
3 years ago

The thinking that we have term limits when we vote is true. The problem fore example is this.
If I want to get rid of my Republican congressman and there is someone else I like. How do I know that the majority of voters agree with me to vote the bum out and replace them. It boils down to fear of the unknown. If we split the vote by voting for new blood then we likely wind up with the other party in charge.
We are all afraid of that, so we are afraid of voting for new blood.
This is also one of the reasons third parties never really get off the ground and are a constant thorn in the butt for Republicans. They tend to split the Republican vote and give the seat away to the Democrat.

Julies
Julies
3 years ago

Before a person is allowed to run for public office they should be required to take a course in constitutional law and then pass a formal written test showing they have a deep understanding of the materials they just studied. I also believe the person running for office should have a psychological exam to make sure he or she is a good mental health. Looking at a lot of people who are in government now they either don’t have an understanding of constitutional law or don’t care to follow the constitution, and some seem like they are in poor Mental Health.

Rik
Rik
3 years ago

Expecting Legislators to enact “Term Limits” on their own jobs is just ludicrous!!! … We the People SHOULD VOTE making Term Limits Law at the ballot box! In fact, wasn’t there an Amendment that somehow disappeared that banned ANY ATTORNEYS from being Legislators? After all, why should Jackasses be allowed to make the laws with all these loopholes in them so that they financially benefit if forced to be in private practice? … But then again, they NEVER leave office like Biden, Obama and the Clintons to “work” ever again.

Darlene
Darlene
3 years ago

The well-established Congress will never vote term limits for themselves. Now that the corrupt party is in charge, elections will be pointless, as the left have figured out how to keep themselves in office with voter fraud. We need to take our country back from the politicians. The people need to vote for anything they want done.

Arlene J Chance
Arlene J Chance
3 years ago

They will never vote for term limits on themselves. The people will have to do it. There are too many “old bones” both in Congress and the Senate. They are all, for the most part, part of the swamp in Washington. Few of them do the will of the people they are supposed to represent.

Miranda
Miranda
3 years ago

Most people agree with term limits but unfortunately Congress is a big web of corporate connections that influences every policy and corrupts every member, the pressure comes from every where. Just now CCP is making all the rules and the Leftist are following it by the book, like puppets. The Right needs to fight hard against all this nonsense stablished corrupt ideas. Hope they will?

Rick Neault
Rick Neault
3 years ago

There is currently a Convention of States effort going on to try and enact term limits and other constitutional amendments to try and rein in congress and their overreach. I doubt it will bring about anything, but they are gaining a lot of support; especially after the recent elections.

Emily C
Emily C
3 years ago

I am all for term limits and we also definitly need an age limit! What we have now is a bunch of old, greedy, lazy people with a compromised mental capacity.

Clark Kent
Clark Kent
3 years ago

Politicians are voted into office. They don’t fall from outer space into their elected positions. The REAL problem is most citizens can’t get off of their collective fat azzes to bother to REGISTER to vote, much less cast a ballot. The problem is US, not THEM. ‘We have met the enemy and he is us’ – Pogo.

Kathy
Kathy
3 years ago

I live in a state that has gerrymandering so the districts are favoring certain candidates. The term limits and elections are not equal in my state. It appears whoever has the most money to buy the election wins

Pat R
Pat R
3 years ago

Two observations: 1) With the 2020 presidential election being what it was, dare we consider incumbents continually get voted back to Congress by same method or bribery? 2) While the GOP has instituted ethical action on the matter, the Dems take more advantage of re-election and the GOP. GOP is setting an good example on a constituent-pushed matter while the Dems continue taking advantage, constituents’ wishes be damned.

Randy P.
Randy P.
3 years ago

There was a time when being a congressman or senator was a sacrifice & they were anxious to get back to their farm. they couldn’t afford to serve more than a term or two before having to get back to business so the farm wouldn’t fail. They set their own term limits. Now that we have career politicians who do not limit themselves, there needs to be a change.

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