Essay, Research Paper
Congress and The Change in Term Limits
In 1994, for the first time in 40 years, Congress was drastically changed. The
Democratic majority was uprooted and new, lively, freshmen were instated with a
job to undertake. As part of the Republican=s AContract with America,@ these
new Republicans had to revise the current Congressional term limit status. In
undertaking this task, these men and women ran into a seemingly stone road-block.
This roadblock consisted of long-term, carreerists who were unwilling to change.
The problem was not that there were no Congressmen who were committed to real
change elected in 1994 because there were, but Congress was highly dominated by
long-term careerists in both parties who seemed to have more loyalty to the
system than to their constituents. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “Whenever a man
has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.” (Oxford
dictionary of quotations, p.272) Over time, career legislators are more likely
to promote the interest of the establishment of which they are part than that of
the larger public. This fact is not surprising. If most of a persons time is
spent meeting with lobbyists, constituents, and bureaucrats, that person may
actually come to believe what these influential people are saying. This is why
new blood needs to enter Congress more frequently, in order to avoid the highly
influenced Congress that is filled with old people with old ideals. Needless to
say the once optimistic freshmen were unsuccessful in their task, and it=s plain
to see why. Until that changes, Congress is not going to change. Congressmen
need to get back to basics and realize that they are in office to serve their
people, and not themselves.
What would change Congress is term limits. By the middle of last year nearly
half of the states had restricted, almost all of them by popular vote, the
number of terms that their members of Congress could serve. But then the Supreme
Court intervened. In U.S. Term Limits, Inc., et al. v. Thornton et al., a narrow
five-to-four majority voided these restrictions, stating that “allowing
individual States to craft their own qualifications for Congress would thus
erode the structure envisioned by the Framers, a structure that was designed, in
the words of the Preamble to our Constitution, to form a Amore perfect Union.@
(US Law Week, 1995)
Congress, naturally, refuses to approve a constitutional amendment on term
limits. Most state legislatures also refuse to approve term-limit measures. And
now the Supreme Court refuses to allow the people to approve term limits. This
fact shows the importance of developing new strategies for subjecting members of
the U.S. Congress to term limits. There are many ways in which this could occur,
but before one can decide which might be the most effective, one must first
realize why they are so necessary.
The election of 1994 was supposed to be one of dramatic change. Three dozen
Democratic incumbents fell, but the overall House reelection rate still ran
roughly 90 percent with 314 of the 348 members remaining unmoved, and the Senate
reelection rate ran 92 percent with 24 of the 26 members up for election unmoved.
Absolutely no Republican incumbents, no matter how flawed, lost in the
election of 1994. These sad statistics show that no matter revolutionary the
voters get, most incumbents still win, and careerists still largely dominate
policy. Edward H. Crane states that, “Those who run for Congress these days are
generally those who find the prospect of spending a significant portion of their
lives as a politician to be an attractive option. Politicians are less likely
to have a real life before entering politics. Many political pros start out as
state legislators in their early twenties and never stop. (Crane (2), p. 251)
Validating this statement is Senator Warren Rudman, a Republican from New
Hampshire, who explained that he retired because “the longer you stay in public
office, the more distant the outside world becomes.” (Wall Street Journal, p.
A22) But he is one of the few to voluntarily step aside when his proper time was
up. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, senior representatives
are more likely than junior legislators to vote for pork and special-interest
economic intervention. (Moore, p.21) The National Taxpayers Union figures, in a
recent survey, demonstrate that, on average, spending rises with terms served.
(Payne, p.175) Just as important, perhaps most importantly, is the corrupting
influence of power. With seniority comes influence, and with influence often
comes corrupting power.
The constant worry of the upcoming re-election is also a contributing factor in
a Senators actions, even the most ideologically committed representative may
slip into putting his career before his ideology. Incumbency has become an
invaluable aid to reelection because of the benefits of power, which usually
mean using government to direct resources to their own districts to make
themselves look good. Incumbents also raise funds and win votes by posing as
defenders of individuals, organizations, and regions threatened by taxes and
regulations which were imposed by other legislators, they usually do this to win
votes in their districts or states. So, as they are in office they focus on
reelection. Even legislators with very strong principles are likely to find
themselves defending individual programs and projects as they attempt to make
their people believe that they shun overall government spending and regulation.
This manipulation of the people leads any incumbent to a very good chance of re-
election,and in our current status, there is no end in sight for these career
Political careers in Congress can be battled in various ways. One could attempt
to limit incumbents’ electoral advantages such as fund-raising, postal franking,
and their large, very important, legislative staff. The people could also
attempt to eliminate campaign finance restrictions which may allow a wealthy
individual to donate as much as they want to a candidate they believe in making
the incumbents= AWar Chest@ slightly less intimidating. One other way that
Congress could be slightly more regulated is by restricting the amount of
lobbying taking place. (Smith, p.A15) While all of those possibilities might be
helpful, they would not be easy to achieve. In order to tackle the real problem
you must seek out the problem, and that problem is political careerism. Today
the entire political system is biased toward long-term legislative service. The
only way to counteract that bias is term limits. The limits should be shorter
rather than longer. Three terms for the House would, for instance, have a
muchmore powerful transforming effect than would the six terms favored by many
officeholders. (Bandow, p.221) 81.3 percent of voters who support term limits
prefer three terms; just 15.8 percent favor six terms. (McLaughlin, p.1)
Shorter term limits would better ensure distribution of leadership positions on
criteria other than seniority, giving bright new Congressmen the hope of holding
a position of responsibility before returning to private life.
So what can be done to change this horrible trend? The Supreme Court decision
to void Astate-imposed@ limits on congressional terms requires either a judicial
reversal or approval of a constitutional amendment. Neither would be easy to
obtain but there are ways in which they might occur. A constitutional amendment
can only come by either action by either Congress, whose members would be
affected by such term limits, or two-thirds of the states. Supporters of term
limits need to apply continuing pressure on Congress to pass a constitutional
amendment. Obviously this strategy faces many barriers. There is one other way
in which an amendment can be passed in the United States. States can call for a
constitutional convention to draft a term-limits amendment for submission to all
the states for approval. Getting backing from the necessary 34 states will be
no easy task. The problem with calling a convention is that once it is called
it is very possible that term limits will not be the only issue on the agenda.
This sets the United States up for a, Arunaway Convention,@ in which those
states could very possibly come out of the convention with a whole new
Constitution instead of only a term limits amendment. Pressuring Congress is by
far the most advantageous choice. Even the mere thought of a possible
Constitutional Convention may cause Congress to realize the people=s strong
feelings on the term limit issue, thus forcing them to draft their own amendment
in order to keep the states out of a Convention. (Clegg, 1995)
The problem concerning term limits will not just simply fade away. The longer
there are incumbents gaining power, the worse off the people of the United
States will be. The American people need to stage a political uprising by using
their power to amend the Constitution and impose term limits on their
legislators. This power can be direct through the convention or indirect by
their overwhelming influence, but it needs to arrive soon. I see an end coming
soon to this issue because of the great amount of public concern. Congress will
do something soon, because if the do not, they are too afraid to see what the
people will do themselves.
Bandow, Doug. “Real Term Limits: Now More Than Ever,” Cato Institute Policy
Analysis April 6, 1995. (www.cato.org)
Clegg, Roger. AIs It Time for a Second Constitutional Convention?@ Washington:
National Legal Center for the Public Interest, 1995. (www.clegg.com)-I
used this site for reference only
Crane,Edward H.(1) “Campaign Reforms vs. Term Limits,” Washington Times, June
26, 1996, p. A15.
Crane, Edward H.(2), “Six and Twelve: The Case for Serious Term Limits,”
National Civic Review, 1991. P. 251.
Jefferson, Thomas. “Letter to Tench Coxe” 1799, The Oxford Dictionary of
Quotations, 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 272.
McLaughlin, Fabrizio, Memorandum to “all interested parties,” February 6, 1996,
p. 1. (www.poilticalscience/pub/quotes.com)
Moore, Stephen and Steelman, Aaron. “An Antidote to Federal Red Ink: Term
Limits,” Cato Institute Briefing Paper no. 21, November 3, 1994, p. 21.
Payne, James, AThe Culture of Spending: Why Congress Lives beyond Our Means@
University Press, 1991 p. 175-80.
Smith, Bradley A. “Campaign Finance Regulation: Faulty Assumptions and
Undemocratic Consequences,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 238, September
13, 1995, p. A15 (www.cato.org)
U.S. Term Limits, Inc., et al. v. Thornton et al., 63 U.S. Law Week 4413, 4432.
May 22, 1995.
Wall Street Journal “Conflict in Congress,” Wall Street Journal, April 22, 1996,