A Hill Talk Editorial: Congressional term limits not welcome in the murky DC swamp

Term limits ensure a continued stream of fresh leaders, perspectives and ideas — an idea America’s Founding Fathers thought essential to the then-new republic. Such a reform would guarantee accountability and ensure elected officials don’t forget who they actually work for.

Yet, seemingly every time talk of establishing rules in regard to restricting the amount of time congresspeople can serve in office gets serious, establishment “swamp creatures” from both sides of the aisle emerge and eagerly gobble it up.

Many find it perplexing that something with such strong bipartisan support has never made it across the political finish line. Let’s keep it simple, the swamp does not voluntarily relinquish power. There have been attempts throughout history to establish congressional term limits since our founding, but such efforts have been met with systematic defiance.

Opponents argue that term limits would empower staffers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, killing off institutional knowledge and that elections act as a form of term limits itself.

However, if one thinks staffers, bureaucrats and lobbyists are not in control of most elderly Congress members, think again.

Would term limits kill off institutional knowledge?  Yes, but it would also create opportunities for fresh blood, perspectives and new ways of thinking.

Elections being the true “term limit” ignores the significant advantage that comes with incumbency. If one doubts the power of incumbency, then how does Congress at-large have a 16 percent approval rating, yet individual senators and representatives enjoy a 90 percent reelection rate?

A large part of the problem is that term limits require a constitutional amendment, which means three-fourths of all state legislatures must approve for the amendment to be ratified as laid out in Article V. That requirement itself practically ensures it will never happen, though some have tried.

Sen. Rand Paul (R- Ky.) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) have both publicly advocated for term limits since respective arrivals on Capitol Hill.

Meadows, a Freedom Caucus member, facilitated a meeting with a younger contingent of bipartisan House members, all under the age of 50, with President Trump in May on this very issue. The proposal, which would limit new senators to two six-year terms and House members to six two-year stints, led to a hearty endorsement from Trump, but legislation has unfortunately stalled-out in traffic somewhere on K Street.

There have been creative attempts to crack this code, however. Congressman Francis Rooney, representing Florida’s 19th Congressional District, gained some notoriety earlier this year by introducing the Thomas Jefferson Public Service Act of 2018.

The proposal offered a means of effectively implementing term limits without amending the Constitution by reducing the salary of an elected member of Congress to $1 per year after they serve six consecutive terms in the House or two in the Senate.  As clever as the plan was, congressional leaders have yet to allow the bill get a committee-level hearing, let alone a floor vote.

Round and round we go.

Citizen legislators, not career politicians, are an essential component of a healthy republic. Congresspeople who are close and responsive to their constituents’ needs is one of the main tenant’s of American government.

Do not be fooled by the swamp creatures, term limits are not about closing the doors of the past, but rather opening new ones to the future.


[The Hill] [Photo courtesy Blunt Force Truth]