Term Limits

This isn’t really a new issue at hand, but it is one that should be looked at closer.  It has gained some newer momentum with the 2010 midterm elections.  And it all has to do with Congressional term-limits.  I currently live in the state of Missouri.  The governor of my state as well as all those serving in the state legislature are term-limited.  And I even know that the President of the US is term-limited, too.  So why shouldn’t Congress be held in the same regard?  Too many politicians are making the act of serving in Congress a career instead of just a civic duty.  And as more time passes, it has become a problem that politicians become more corrupt, more susceptible to scandals, drawn in by more power and greed, and very few new ideas.  I won’t say that they become more partisan as time goes by simply because it seems as though the newly elected take that quality and the more experienced know they have to work with each other and compromise to get things done.

When our Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution and set up Congress, they expected it to be rotating with new people and new ideas.  This is especially so in the House of Representatives which was set-up as the people’s house.  They wanted all people (who were eligible) to be able to run and serve in this new republic of ours.  It didn’t take long for that to change though… and for people to continuously serve without ever leaving until they chose to.  And today, the elections are only open to people who can usually raise enough funds to run a campaign for months.  Even with volunteers, most elections cost quite a bit of money, so they aren’t open to the very person who was designed to run for office.

And as a person sits in Congress, their name begins to carry some weight to it… not just within the halls of the building but also in their home districts or state.  And that can make it even more difficult for someone new to win an election.  That’s not to say that it can’t happen… but usually it involves someone else with just as big of a name.  So there is still almost nothing new coming from it.  The midterm elections in 2010 were a rarity.  Many average Americans ran in local elections for their districts to serve in the House of Representatives and won… even unseating party veterans, thus introducing a large new class of representatives.  However, this isn’t as innocent and surprising as it may seem because all of these candidates had the backing of the Tea Party… what is usually classified as an extreme part of the Republican Party (or it could be considered an off-shoot… though Tea Party elected officials are still considered Republicans).

Tea Party Republicans ran on smaller government and having the people take back control.  So shouldn’t the Tea Party back the idea of term limits for Congress?  There are some reports saying they do, but the issue still hasn’t gained any traction or voice within this new Congress… and that could also be the result of the party elders that have been serving them.  It probably seems as though Congressional term limits would have to be grandfathered in, which is kind of sad.  Those with the experience aren’t going to give it up so easily, so a line might have to be drawn somewhere.  (Personally, I think, even if it would be grandfathered in, anyone who voted against it would be subject to it.)  Even after Congress put a term-limit on the President after President Franklin Roosevelt was elected 4-times to the office (and he will be the only one to serve that long), it was still grandfathered in.  The current president at the time of amendment, President Harry Truman, was the last person who could have served more than 2-terms (or 10 years).

But could grandfathering in term limits in Congress just make the more seasoned politicians even more corrupt and powerful as they know that no other member could touch their power base?  It is definitely a possibility.  Back in 1992 was the last time we added an amendment to the Constitution.  What was it about?  It had to do with congressional salaries and pay raises.  “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”  We often complain about how much Senators and Representatives get paid… and how often they seem to vote themselves a pay raise.  So how do they get around this amendment?  Well most people probably don’t even know it exists.  And secondly, they don’t call them pay raises but rather cost of living increases.  Yep… a little play on words can go a long way in Congress.  We would need newer Senators and Representatives to have the gumption to stand up to the “old breed” to allow the American people to take back control and to not let them continuously abuse what was supposed to be a civic duty of the good people.

So what should be appropriate term limits?  I’ll start with the Senate… seems to be the easiest to tackle.  Two full terms as Senator should be good enough.  That’s 12 years.  I know that sometimes a Senator is appointed during a vacancy between cycles.  Only an additional 3-years (1/2 of a normal term) should be added to the term-limit if this were to happen.  So now what about the House of Representatives?  I think four-terms (8-years) would be good enough to be the voice of the people in your district before stepping aside and letting someone else.  Again, vacancies between elections can occur.  Special elections are usually held to fill these.  An additional 1-year could be added to the term-limit if someone were to assume the office in mid-term by this way.

So what do you think… as the average voter?  Is it reasonable?  The people that serve in Congress need to be one with the people.  They need to be people that have had normal jobs like the average American and they must have an end-mark where they must return to normal jobs once their time is complete.  This would have to be on their minds as they make laws the affect the rest of us, though sometimes seems to leave them unmarked.  With this in mind, all members of Congress would have to invest (from their own paychecks) into a 401k plan instead of a pension from the American taxpayer.  They would also have to  pay for their own private healthcare plan… instead of getting the cream of the crop from the taxpayers (who have trouble affording their own to start with).  And they would continue to contribute to Social Security and Medicare as they would do before they were elected… and will do after they leave office and assume a normal life.

Sure some say that they are against term limits because it would force out some of the good ones that do exist within its halls, but I counter with that it makes those people move on and brings about new ideas that are so needed.  And good people will still be around and serving… just not the same ones with the same name recognition.  It would be like making new friends.  Again… they are supposed to be serving a civic duty not making careers from this… and it’s time we brought this back to light.  If everyone else should be term-limited, and if Congress had the right to draft an amendment to the Constitution to term-limit the President, then why shouldn’t we demand that those serving in Congress be term-limited?  This is not the time for it to be pushed back… this is the time we make it happen while these large new classes of “civil servants” are getting elected.  The people are showing they want new people now, so maybe it’s time we pave the way for this to happen on a regular basis.

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