By Michelle Tombu
The democratic system of government in America was designed to most effectively serve the nation by vesting power in all its people. And yet it has increasingly become a weapon employed by individual politicians in fulfilling their sole objective of, first, garnering political power and then permanently remaining in it. An imposition of term limits for members of Congress has long been backed by a large majority of Americans on the impulse of fostering candid debate and forging a more progressive society – one which maintains the true integrity of our nation’s democracy. The current effects of congressional stagnation has resulted in more than 90% of House incumbents being continuously reelected year after year, with the reelection rate among Senators falling below 80% only three times total since 1982 . Congressional term limits have the potential to ameliorate many of America’s most pressing political issues by “counterbalancing incumbent advantages, ensuring congressional turnover, securing independent congressional judgment, and reducing election-related incentives for wasteful government spending” . But perhaps most importantly, such a change will allow Congress to appear directly face to face with its own fragility, acquire a sense of its own transitoriness and potentially even come to learn ways in which to sustain legitimacy. Term limits are a very necessary corrective to the current political inequalities which perpetually avail incumbents and inevitably hinder their challengers.
The 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution imposes a two term limit on all presidencies as a check on federal executive power. Presidential term limits sustain the democracy of the position and ensure a single candidate does not cling on to power for an excessive period of time. Our national legislation has already appointed term limits on the office of the President in an effort to maintain political impartiality, thus it is only logical that such measures be applied to Congress as well. Some argue that congressional elections serve as inherent term limits for members of the House. This can be refuted by political campaign donors’ recognition of an incumbent candidate’s higher reelection rate and subsequent inclination to support such a campaign in an effort to yield more profit. This makes it nearly impossible for other candidates to have a chance at a fair election. In primary elections, both the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) very rarely introduce new candidates to run against incumbents. Thus, the current office-holder often becomes the sole possible nominee . The approval rating of Congress ranks consistently below 20%, yet the congressional reelection rate remains over 95% because of the intrinsic advantages incumbents have over challengers, making it virtually impossible to vote them out of office. Term limits have the capacity to prevent individuals from becoming too powerful in Congress and ultimately better reflect the will of the American people. This also plays into a citizen’s constitutional right to vote by giving voters more choices at the ballot box and effectively eliminating the electoral monopoly generated by incumbent advantages. Allowing new individuals to run for office will give voters more federal autonomy and opportunities to create a personal choice.
Term limits are supported by a large majority of American demographic groups: an overwhelming 82% of Americans support a “Term Limits Amendment” for Congress, even crossing major party lines at 89% Republican, 83% Independent, and 76% Democratic, making the issue nonpartisan in itself . The longstanding legislative resistance to congressional term limits stands in sharp contrast with private citizens’ strong support for them. The only serious primary opponents of term limits are incumbent politicians and the special interest groups that support them, particularly labor union groups. The extreme influence of lobbyists such as super Political Action Committees (PACs) and special interests serves as a threat to our democracy because these groups have held the financial power to sway elections and overpower the voices of others through absolutely exorbitant campaign donations. According to “Open Secrets”, 97% of corporate PAC money goes to the incumbent candidates because they are often most established and easily-influenced – lobbyists and special interest groups already have them in their back pocket . Term limits would effectively break the chokehold these groups have on the members of Congress, reducing the amount of money spent on incumbent candidates and thus making our elections more democratic and just. They would aid in reducing political corruption by severing politicians’ ties with lobbyists and bureaucrats, making ex-lawmakers overall less valuable. In doing so, public service is safeguarded from those who seek to exploit it for personal benefit.
Time and time, year after year, we are represented by the same people. In 2020, both the House and Senate elections, 93% of incumbent candidates nationwide won their respective races. Such candidates have the name recognition, money, and power necessary to easily win these elections, however, they do little for their constituents and advance their own interests by gaining committee chairmanships and seniority. Bills and other legislatures are most often stalled in congressional election years when politicians are primarily focused on reelection rather than their duty to serve districts and address significant community matters. As it turns out, when members of Congress spend every waking moment of their given term consumed by the prospects of their own reelection, the concerns of the American people fall by the wayside. “As a result, all we are left with is unsolved problems and a $27 trillion national debt” . When not fully invested in the matters of their own country, Congress members are forced to vote along party lines to ensure they are re-elected by their party. The introduction of term limits would create more acts of political courage. Term limits will allow the most capable lawmakers to have these positions while encouraging other members to do the same, creating a sense of ability over seniority. Term limits provide representatives who are closer to their constituents and who know they have a limited time in office to do the work they were sent there to do. They remain cognizant of the return they will make back home, where they too must live under the laws they have enacted.
Congressional incumbency is “a paradigm of careerism, combining power, stature and influence with lavish benefits: a high salary; unparalleled business connections; limited working days; spectacular working conditions; periodic taxpayer-funded fact-finding trips; a sizable staff (that could include family and friends); exceptional medical, dental and retirement benefits; weakened insider trading rules; taxpayer funded legal expenses; the ability to moonlight at other jobs; free flights back and forth to the lawmaker’s home state; a family death gratuity; and free parking” . Considering this it is truly no wonder that these guys make every effort to maintain their jobs for as long as humanly possible. Innovative public policy, which includes the addition of term limits, is the only way to address the most pressing of issues currently affecting our nation. How will we address problems such as foreign debt, climate change, immigration, etc. if the congressmen who have been unable to pass successful resolutions continue to remain in power? The solution lies in the succeeding and thus they must be rewarded an equal opportunity.
- Greenberg, Dan. “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean up Congress.” The Heritage Foundation, Political Process, 1994, https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/term-limits-the-only-way-clean-congress
- Fulcrum, William NatbonyThe. “Ted Cruz Is Right! Congress Needs Term Limits.” Shelby News, 17 Aug. 2021, https://www.shelbynews.com/opinion/ted-cruz-is-right-congress-needs-term-limits/article_0bfe80b1-b6d9-5894-a39f-7e18376b8274.html
- “OpEd: We Need Congressional Term Limits.” Representative Jake LaTurner, 20 July 2021, https://laturner.house.gov/media/editorial/oped-we-need-congressional-term-limits
- “Suggestions on the Benefits of Term Limits.” U.S. Term Limits, 5 Aug. 2021, https://www.termlimits.com/suggestions/
- Markman, Allison. “Congress Needs Term Limits.” The Iris, 7 Sep. 2021, https://www.theirisnyc.com/post/congress-needs-term-limits
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