Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Term Limits

One thing you hear a great deal of discussion about, but very little action on, is the topic of term limits for our elected representatives. It's one of those things everyone thinks is a great idea for all those worthless bums in Congress ... except for their own Senator or Representative, who is a fine gentleman and a sober and responsible statesman. This is why term limit propositions never go anywhere.

The Constitution does not place limits on any elected position except the presidency; the 22nd Amendment limits the President to two terms. Article 1, Section 2, Clause 1 establishes a term of two years for Representatives, and Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1 (later modified by the 17th Amendment) establishes a term of six years for Senators; however, there are no limits placed on the number of times a particular Senator or Representative may be reelected.

The practical result of this is that the people of a state or a congressional district can keep voting a particular Senator or Representative into office as long as they want until he or she - quite literally - dies of old age*.

Now, this might not be a problem if all that were important is that the people who are being represented are happy with the job their Senator or Representative is doing. After all, the elected official is supposed to do their will, is he (or she) not? But because important positions like committee chairs are awarded to members of Congress on the basis of (1) which party's in power and (2) seniority, we can end up with certain members wielding extraordinary power and shaping the actions of government in consideration of the interests of their state or district, without regard for the welfare of the nation as a whole. Consider the enormous amount of Federal spending that made its way to the relatively small state of West Virginia during Senator Robert Byrd's long control of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

And it gets more problematic when you consider the impact of unlimited terms coupled with congressional districts which have been gerrymandered to death in order to preserve the seat for one party, or to minimize the representative abilities of the other. The combination of the two is a guaranteed recipe for perpetual control of a district by a single party and the insane congressional gridlock we see today.

I believe term limits should apply to all elected officials - not just the president. A recent Facebook post by Representative Lee Zeldin (R, NY) expressed support for term limits and asked for feedback on several potential options:

(1) Four two-year terms;

(2) Six two-year terms;

(3) Two four-year terms;

(4) Three four-year terms;

(5) The status quo; or,

(6) Something else.

Rep Zeldin's post had gotten 202 comments the last time I checked, with option 3 (two four-year terms) having a slight lead.

We need to have an option that allows for legislative continuity without homesteading. We need term limits that provide enough time for an elected official to learn the ropes and be effective, but not enough time to go legislatively native, letting power go to the head and forgetting where he or she came from.

As I see it, two-year terms are much too short. Members of Congress already spend too much of their time engaged in fund raising for the party as a whole or for their next election, which is always right around the corner. This limits the amount of time they have available to do the job they were elected to do.

Four year terms are better: they allow the individual to learn on the job and become effective, and let the voters see whether they got what they thought they elected. There's more time between elections, and so (theoretically, at least) there should be less time spent on fundraising. I believe the optimum structure is to elect Senators and Representatives the same way we do the President: for a maximum of two four-year terms ... a total of eight years in office.

This would, of course, require an amendment to the Constitution, but I think it is one that would be much more worthwhile than some of the many amendments that are proposed each session.

So, Dear Readers, what do you think? Are term limits a good thing or a bad thing**? If they're good, what do you think is the appropriate limit and why? Leave a comment, because enquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* See Claude Pepper of Florida and Robert Byrd of West Virginia for examples.

** Sadly, there are no limits on stupidity, regardless of length of term ... so be careful who you vote for.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Term limits are definitely needed. I agree with you; a standard four-year term for Senators and Representatives with two terms, ay most three, should be enough. Gerrymandering compounds the problem.

The frequency of elections causes anxious elected officials to pander to voters, lest they get payback.

Duckbutt said...

Definitely there should be term limits on Congress as well as the Presidency. Having four-year terms for Reps sounds good; we're continually in an election mode!

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I'm totally in agreement about term limits. It would save the country money. Here's how I see it. 8 years...no pensions for these bozos as well as other benefits they take with them. I think there should be a salary cap too. Though I really don't believe any of them actually deserve what they are being paid.

Also make these guys actually work..they recess way too often and then bitch when the President is on vacation.

John Hill said...

My philosophy on term limits has changed over the years. I used to say we have term limits -- they're called elections!
However, elections only allow me to vote out my local representatives and, as Bilbo points out, others are assigned to committees and positions that impact the entire nation and I can do nothing to remove them from office.
The career politician was not the intent of a representative form of government. If politicians actually returned to their districts to live with the people they once represented (instead of going to work for the corporations that funded their campaigns) things might be different.
I don't mind the 2-4-6 year terms that we have. If we went to 4 year terms for our House reps, I would still be in favor a a two year election cycle with half of them up for election at a time. I think the two year cycles keep the issues before the people in a way that a 4 yr cycle would not and provides for a subtle course correction midway through a presidential cycle.

Anemone said...

While we're considering term limits, we should also look critically at committee assignments based on seniority.

Gonzo Dave said...

I think two (or maybe three) four-year terms should be enough. I like John's idea of the half-and-half election cycle, too. But what about the Senate? Maybe three fours for the House and two sixes for the Senate?

Mike said...

We have term limits in Missouri. What we have found out is how few people actually want to be politicians. Our state reps have 4 two year terms. My rep is just finishing up his 4 terms so he is now running for what will be an open seat in the state senate. Open because of term limits.

There are less contested elections in Missouri anymore except for statewide offices. And what you have to think about is who can afford to give up their job to go into politics? If you don't fundraise, who can afford to run for office and risk losing? I don't have all the answers but would anyone reading this run for office?

We have (had?) a state rep that likes to make farting sounds in the chamber when someone is speaking about something he doesn't like.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer said...

Making farting sounds when someone else is speaking is a real class act.
Term limits in some form would end professional, careerist politicians.

allenwoodhaven said...

There will be unintended consequences with any change that is actually implemented, but I think term limits are potentially a beneficial idea. Many good points were made in these comments. Chairmanships should be based on expertise in that area (even though that is an obviously laughable idea in current practice). We should have a Constitutional Convention for possible amendments from time to time, and that should be sooner rather than later.