Congress And The Change In Term Limits

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. (

Clegg, Roger. AIs It Time for a Second Constitutional Convention?@ Washington:

National Legal Center for the Public Interest, 1995. (

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/

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 (

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,

p. A22.


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