Serving in Congress was always envisioned by our founders as a chance to serve one’s country not as a means to make money or serve in perpetuity. Yet today, many lawmakers view the work as a career, not a temporary assignment. Look at former KKK member and Democratic Senator Robert C. Byrd who served from West Virginia for over 51 years, or Representative John Dingell, Jr, a Democrat from Michigan who served in the House for 60 years.
They managed to keep their jobs for so long because defeating an incumbent is hard. Not only do they continue to collect their Congressional salary but receive nearly a million each year to pay for free mail, staff salaries, their office and travel expenses, even while campaigning for reelection. In addition, they have a small army of staffers to perform all sorts of jobs closely tied to their reelection campaign, such as soliciting media attention and doing favors for constituents. Members of Congress are also allowed to send out thirty thinly disguised pieces of reelection propaganda to every resident in their district several times a year. When you toss in other incumbent advantages such as name recognition, media access, higher special interest contributions, the ability to offer pork-barrel legislation to benefit their district, it is no wonder that challengers are at a disadvantage.
The promotion of turnover in the legislative branch predates the Constitution. The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, the most radical of the revolutionary era, had a strict limit of four years on service. In 1777 the Continental Congress allowed delegates to serve a maximum of three years. The primary motivation was to ensure that legislators reflected the make-up and outlook of the citizenry they claimed to represent. Term limits were actually contained in America’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation but did not appear in the Constitution primarily because its drafters saw them as entering into too much detail for such a short document. Nonetheless, self-imposed limits on officeholders were long a part of America’s public-service ethic as members of Congress returned to private life after a couple of terms. With the rise of the modern super-state, term limitation, once the accepted American tradition, has been replaced by congressional careerism. That is why the voluntary service limitations of the past must now be made part of the nation’s laws.
The only serious opponents of term limits are, of course, incumbent politicians and the special interests organizations (unions, environmentalists, energy, etc.) and deep pocket donors that keep them in office. Many of these special interest’s organizations were created for the sole purpose of buying Congressional support for programs, laws, regulations and subsidies from American taxpayers and they have no qualm about using the law as a lever to line their own pockets or harm anyone that disagrees with their agenda.
Term limits would be a reality check. Not only would it end special interest control over America’s lawmakers, they would ensure Congress’s independent judgment, and minimize incentives for reelection related “pork-barrel” legislation. In addition, term limits would restore respect for Congress, if possible, ensuring that members would be more representative of their communities and would renew American citizenship by writing into law the principle that people can govern themselves.
Limiting terms would limit abuse of the congressional seniority system by rotating power so it could not remain long enough with any one person for him or her to abuse it. Under the current seniority system, a handful of career-oriented congressmen chair key committees for years and control much of the of the legislative agenda, often preventing members from even voting on matters of national interest.
Term limits would create a climate in which talented men and women would want to run for Congress, since they would know they would reach a position of significant influence in a few short years instead of having to make a career of politics if they wanted to play a major role in Congress. Citizen-legislators would come to government briefly, then return to private life and live with the consequences of the laws they had passed, making it likely they would pass fewer laws and those that were passed would reflect a more level-headed judgment. In other words, they would not only read the legislation before passing it, having to live with the consequences of that legislation would prevent laws such as ObamaCare.
“Term limits are painful for politicians. For many the dream of living in their eternal Disneyland comes crashing to an end. .. It better serves elected officials by forcing them back into the real world for a chance to reclaim their humility and sense of responsibility, qualities stripped away by a system destined to warp anyone’s mind.” Leon Drolet, former Michigan State Legislator.