The idea of a new Constitutional Amendment to enforce term limits on Congress has started to gain more traction. On January 4th, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Francis Rooney introduced a bill to do just that. The bill would restrict members of the Senate to two six-year terms and members of the House to three two-year terms. “For too long, members of Congress have abused their power and ignored the will of the American people,” Cruz said. “Term limits on members of Congress offer a solution to the brokenness we see in Washington, D.C. It is long past time for Congress to hold itself accountable. I urge my colleagues to submit this constitutional amendment to the states for speedy ratification.”
Should the U.S. really ratify a new Constitutional Amendment to limit Congress to a finite amount of terms? It seems very improbable that Congress would limit their own power and put these types of restrictions on themselves, but would it be beneficial even if they did? Would it force Congress to work together for the good of their constituents?
The group U.S. Term Limits has been the leader of the Congressional term limit movement since the beginning. Since it is very unlikely that Congress gives up the ability to continue to run for office, U.S. Term Limits has been gathering support from the states. If two-thirds of the states agree, the state legislatures can convene a meeting to write the amendment to limit the number of terms Congressional representatives can serve. The number of states that USTL has brought on board currently stands at 25. To meet the two-thirds requirement, 34 states would need to sign on.
USTL argues that introducing term limits would reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests on decision making in Congress. Corporations spend about $2.6 billion a year on lobbying the government. That’s more than the U.S. spends on funding the House and Senate combined. Obviously, with that kind of money, special interest can have a huge impact on elections and decisions that will be made in Congress. These kind of funds help sustain the Iron Triangle that exists between Congress, the bureaucracy, and special interests. Each corner of the triangle helps the other sustain its power while the electorate are left wondering what happened. As you can expect, the benefit Congress gets from participating in this relationship is being re-elected with 80-90% certainty while sustaining an approval rating around 15-20%.
Term limits on Congress would also prevent life-time politicians from being re-elected year after year. These individuals, like Nancy Pelosi or John McCain, accumulate influence and power the longer they remain in office. When new representatives with different ideas are elected, life-time politicians can limit their influence and the will of the people that elected the new representative. Why do we continue to elect these sorts of people that are only interested in themselves?
There are however opponents of this idea of term limits. The Brookings Institute argues that it would take power away from voters by limiting their choices. In a nation of over 300 million citizens, this can’t be a serious problem. Brookings also argues that it would take away the incentive to gain policy expertise and experience, limiting the number of people skilled in these areas. It would also remove effective lawmakers from office eventually. But these arguments miss the point of implementing term limits altogether. Term limits are a great idea precisely because they would limit the ability of career politicians from gaining influence and power to manipulate the system. Rather than having professional politicians who only look out for themselves, we would have citizen legislators that are representative of the people.
Term limits should be placed on members of Congress. Term limits would minimize corruption and limit the power of special interest groups in the U.S. The will of the people would be heard to a much greater degree and we would defeat career politicians that only look out for themselves. Hopefully as more states come on board with the idea, a Constitutional Convention will be called by the states and Congress will be forced to implement term limits.
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Dallin Overstreet is the Senior Policy Research Fellow at the American Freedom Institute