Term Limits

Despite the fact that Congress' approval rating floats around 9-20%, they get re-elected over 90% of the time. Why? The incumbent advantage. Incumbents inherently hold more power than their challengers. Even if their constituents are less than satisfied with their performance, they will get re-elected anyway. In order to combat the incumbent advantage and accumulation of power by politicians, I support placing term limits on the House of Representatives and the Senate.

How to Get Term Limits

The way to get official, legally binding term limits is via constitutional amendment. This is accomplished by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate or the House, or by constitutional convention if called for by two-thirds of state legislators. This is a very difficult path. It is unlikely that those in Congress will vote away their power. The alternative then is the constitutional convention. However, this has never been done before. None of our 27 amendments were created this way Few politicians will say that they are against term limits, however they use the difficulty of passing a constitutional amendment as an excuse to not actively advocate for it. 

How to Get De facto Term Limits

There are at least two ways we could get de facto term limits. One way is by the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader stripping members of committee assignments after their "term limit" has been reached. This does not expel the member, but it would greatly reduce their effectiveness and likelihood of seeking re-election. It would be important that both major parties adopt this however, because parties can switch majorities after any election. Consistency among both parties is key.

Another option is self-imposed term limits. This would mean that members would agree on principle to not seek re-election after so many terms. Members may be reluctant to do this, but may feel pressured if enough of their peers agree to do the same.

 

It is fair to ask if this would be effective for a single member, or if a pact would need to be agreed upon. That way a member cannot say "I would do it, but just one member won't make a difference, so I won't." Perhaps they could sign a pact that stated that they would self-impose term limits if 10% of their colleagues agree to do the same.

How Long Should the Term Limits Be?

I am not committed on a number, but my suggestion would be 10 years in the House (5 terms) and 12 years (2 terms) in the Senate. I understand that it takes time for members to learn how to become legislators and that it takes time to build up a reputation. I believe that 10-12 years is enough time for that. Compare that to the Michigan Legislature, which has 6 year (3 term) and 8 year (2 term) limits for the House and Senate respectively. I believe that 6 years is not quite long enough. 

A Soft Approach to Term Limits

There is a softer approach to Term Limits that I would consider as well. "Consecutive" term limits only limit the amount of terms that someone can serve in a row. For example, perhaps you can only serve three consecutive terms, and then you cannot run for re-election. However, you can run for re-election after sitting out for one term. This gives people the opportunity to return to public service, but without the incumbent advantage. This is the approach I took while I assisted with revising the bylaws for the board of my local neighborhood association. We came to the agreement of one year terms for officers, with a three consecutive term limit. If members took a year off as an officer, they could run for another three terms.