Should Congress have term limits?
- In American history, the longest-serving congressman was Democrat John Dingell, Jr., of Michigan, with 59 years of continuous service.
- In 2018, the average length of service for Congress members was just over nine years.
- A 2018 McLaughlin & Associates survey found that 82% of American voters support a constitutional amendment to place term limits on Congress members.
- Members of Congress serve two-year terms and are eligible for reelection every even year.
While mandatory retirement ages are not uncommon in certain professions, it is incredibly unusual to see industries constrain their specialists to a set number of years, while also requiring their employees to reapply for the same position continually. Yet, this is the argument for proponents of limiting terms for elected congresspeople.
Setting term limits targets legislative positions for being something other than what they are at their most basic level – jobs. It also sets the stage for a kind of “brain drain,” with the most knowledgeable of congressional leadership expected to step aside, just as they become experienced enough to put that knowledge to use.
This last point also undermines one of the purported reasons for term limits: the prevention of corruption. Not only is there no evidence that term limits correlate with less corruption, but they may, perversely, encourage it. Legislative representatives pressured by strict time limits on their career may not bother or have the time to learn the ins-and-outs of policy procedure, essentially outsourcing those efforts to lobbyists who advocate only for a particular industry and not a constituency.
Additionally, in assemblies at the state level, term-limited advocates have often been unable to maintain or revise policy bills after passage. They also tend to pass fewer bills overall than other legislatures, with less experienced lawmakers more hesitant to craft comprehensive legislation. Consequently, establishing term limits would hinder the legislature itself, making governing more dysfunctional, not less.
Congress should absolutely have term limits. The colonists didn't fight the Revolutionary War to exchange one wealthy, near-permanent ruling class for another. The founders expected that members of Congress would have real lives that they returned to after serving the nation. What we have today are career politicians ever more disengaged from the lives and concerns of the ordinary people they are supposed to represent.
Although very few members of Congress have come up through the working class, most have not. Millionaires and multi-millionaires make up the majority of Congress, many of whom have the benefit of inherited wealth. And, while in Congress, they grow remarkably richer. Corruption, such as insider trading and influence peddling, plays an essential role in that.
How can those of a certain privilege and economic status understand the real economy and the people in it? Who do such people represent? Not us. How do our interests compare priority-wise with those of the highly influential 'big money.' Without term limits, many of these so-called representatives tend to focus on enriching themselves and their cronies while securing their own political power and reelection.
We need term limits to break up the cartel of career politicians currently running things. Reducing the number of career politicians and disrupting the profiteering of political cliques may, hopefully, draw those honestly interested in serving the nation into Congress. Indeed, term limits have the potential to play a valuable role in helping to restore Congressional focus to its constitutionally defined duties.