The Catch 22 of Congressional Term Limits
Thirty years ago the term limit movement was on the move in Washington DC. They made significant strides in convincing millions of citizens to support term limits on their representatives. Although achieving the support of the citizenry they had no success convincing senators and representatives to pass the Constitutional Amendment. They turned to the state legislatures and by 1995 twenty-three states had past amendments to their state constitutions limiting representatives and senators terms to various limits in their respective states.
In 1995 the United States Supreme Court took up the issue and ruled that state constitutional amendments limiting the time in office of their representatives violated the United States Constitution. The case was U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton and the court ruled that only an amendment to the United States Constitution could set limits on congressional tenure. (Thornton)
In the early 90’s the Republicans were over took the majority from the Democrats in the House of Representatives. This move was led by Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America” (Contract). The contract made many promises of bringing to a vote 10 issues the public was interested in passing. The contract included “The Citizen Legislature Act” and addressed the matter of congressional term limits. This contract was signed by all the republican politicians that were running for office that year. Once introduced the act, requiring a two thirds majority, was rejected by the U.S. House 227-204.
Senator Jim Demint of South Carolina took up the term limit cause and introduced a bill on November 10th 2009 that if passed would do exactly what the term limit supporters want. It would limit every representative to 3 terms (6 years) and every senator to 2 terms (12 years). The law has yet to pass. According to a September 2010 Fox News Public Opinion poll of registered voters 74 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of Republicans favor term limits. (Fox News)
Senator Demint’s released this statement on the matter.
“As long as members have the chance to spend their lives in Washington, their interests will always skew toward spending taxpayer dollars to buyoff special interests, covering over corruption in the bureaucracy, fundraising, relationship building among lobbyists, and trading favors for pork – in short, amassing their own power.” South Carolina Senator Jim Demint. (Demint)
The main reason proponents want term limits is they believe that it will lesson the influence of lobbyists on their representatives. Long time Senators and Representatives have more influence on policies and lobbyists for corporations and special interest groups donate millions of dollars for their campaigns. Politicians need the donations because they are constantly running for re-election and sometimes they will support the causes of their top contributors, even if it is against the voters in the district that elected them best interests. This could very well lessen lobbyist influence when a congressman or senator is prohibited from serving another term they may be more likely to work harder for the district that they will soon be returning to.
An argument against limiting terms would be that a state would always be represented by a freshman or sophomore representative. Seniority is power for politicians. Longer term senators and representatives sit on and lead the most powerful committees in Congress. Here in lies the problem. If some states limit their representatives terms they will not likely have a congressman with much influence on the body he serves in. Basically the longer they have been there the more power and respect they have with their piers. Freshman representative’s bills are rarely brought to the floor for a vote so they are left to vote yes or no on others bills or trying to influence senior representatives to sign on their bills and help them get a vote.
Congressmen deal with trillions of our tax dollars per year and they now are borrowing an extra trillion and a half dollars per year to meet their fellow politician’s wants and needs for their districts, social programs, social security, military conquests, and the Presidents plans for spending. The people who elect these politicians and pay the taxes often expect them to go to Washington and secure a good percentage of the taxes they paid to the federal back to be spent in their state or district.
Here we reach the catch 22 of the term limit dilemma. The people want term limits to lesson the lobbyists influence so their representatives will concentrate more on the needs of the district, but the politicians need seniority in Congress to secure influence and money to meet the needs of citizens in his district. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. This leaves two choices, either citizens elect the same representatives over and over again or have brand new representatives every 6 years with very little power or influence on the workings in congress.
Ten Republican Senators are also supporting Jim Demint’s term limit amendment but it is unlikely that the Senate will ever reach the two thirds requirement or 67 Senators. Two-thirds of the House would also have to agree to send an amendment to the states for ratification. The last hurdle would be that three-fourths of the states would have to agree by popular vote to ratify the amendment. With all these requirements so hard to meet it is extremely unlikely that term limits will ever make it into our Constitution.
(Thorton) Legal Information Institute website accessed October 18th, 2011 http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/93-1456.ZO.html
(Contract) Contract with America website accessed October 19th, 2011 http://www.house.gov/house/Contract/CONTRACT.html
(Demint) Senator Jim Demint, official senate website accessed October 20th, 2011 http://demint.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=df3453ee-c1f0-e8d5-3fb3-77379823cf1c&ContentType_id=a2165b4b-3970-4d37-97e5-4832fcc68398&Group_id=9ee606ce-9200-47af-90a5-024143e9974c&MonthDisplay=11&YearDisplay=2009
(Fox News) PDF file last accessed October 19th, 2011