In January of this year, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a joint resolution with Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) to amend the Constitution to include congressional term limits. If the amendment is passed and ratified by the states, senators would be limited to two 6-year terms while House members would be limited to three 2-year terms.
“It is well past time to put an end to the cronyism and deceit that has transformed Washington into a graveyard of good intentions,” Cruz stated. Rooney said that term limits would be a “first step towards reforming Capitol Hill.”
According to a survey by Rasmussen, 74 percent of Americans polled were in favor of term limits for members of both houses of Congress. Perhaps not surprisingly, the amendment was proposed amidst recent election-cycle cries to “drain the swamp” in D.C., with voters from both parties feeling increasingly isolated from Washington elites.
Despite the headway made by the amendment’s advocates, many skeptics continue to cite either the possibility of losing “good” representatives or the necessity of professionalism and experience in politics—an end which could be harmed by congressional term limits. Advocates for term limits usually offer a rebuttal, arguing that the Founding Fathers viewed representation as public service—meaning that politicians were never intended to treat their elected positions like careers.
In any case, Americans feel unrepresented in D.C.
A major 2018 study conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that each party perceives itself as the “losing” minority, that politics are seen as working better locally than in D.C., and that “significant changes” are needed to fix the federal government.
Even more telling is their perception that “who the president is” makes a big difference in their daily lives, which indicates that voters are counting on Congress increasingly less when they think of politics. Have Americans lost hope of having a voice in the legislative process?
Many argue that term limits for the U.S. House and Senate would produce a healthy “in-and-out” flow of new representatives with new ideas, and would ensure that representatives wouldn’t be comfortably separated from “the real world”—a world all too often forgotten by those who don’t have to suffer the consequences of their own bad legislation.
Representatives would be forced to have careers and relations outside of Congress, and their policies would likely reflect it.
One might wonder whether limiting representatives’ time in Congress would allow them to divert blame onto their successors for any delayed consequences of bad legislation. This criticism of term limits defeats itself, because successors would likewise be able to blame their predecessors for creating the conditions necessary for those consequences to occur. None of that kind of criticism occurs when representatives serve for several decades, experiencing the ebb and flow of both positive and negative legislative consequences during their reign and successfully isolating themselves from any responsibility afterwards.
Despite the small cost of limiting the number of terms a good representative can serve, the advantages of term limits are numerous. Representatives are cycled regularly, giving everybody’s ideas a chance, and politicians are not isolated from the “real world” by making a career out of their elected offices.
Altogether, term limits bring representatives in Congress closer to the people. If the term limits amendment is passed and ratified, perhaps Americans will once again look towards their legislative branch of government to address the nation’s most pressing political concerns.