In the United States, the President is limited to serving two terms in office. This is because of the Twenty-Second Amendment, which was ratified in February 1951. Only Franklin D. Roosevelt served more than two terms and unless another Amendment is passed by Congress and ratified, he will be the only President to do so.
Politicians elected to Congress, Senators and Representatives, are not covered by the Twenty-Second Amendment. They can serve for as long as they wish, assuming they continue to be elected every 6 years or 2 years respectively. Robert Byrd, for example, served in the Senate for more than 51 years. John Dingell served in the House of Representatives for more than 53 years.
Term limits for Congress have various pros and cons to be considered. Seniority creates the ability to facilitate change in Washington DC, but it also creates gridlock because congressional representatives also wish to continue being re-elected. By establishing term limits, some of that gridlock could be replaced without necessarily removing the benefits of seniority.
Here are some of the key points to consider.
List of the Pros for Congressional Term Limits
1. It would bring new ideas to the table.
When the same people keep getting elected to Congress time and time again, the same debates happen over and over again. Low turnover rates in Congress create a foundation of stale ideas. New perspectives can provide different types of influence and that can inspire changes which may benefit the whole of society. Senators and Representatives would be able to bring more to each discussion because they are less likely to be isolated from their districts because of the responsibilities in Washington.
2. It may encourage people to vote.
Many people vote in every election, but a majority of people in a district not voting is becoming an all-too-common occurrence. If people know that their Senator or Representative is likely to be re-elected, they feel like there isn’t a need to get involved in the political process. By establishing term limits, more people could come out to vote because there would be more opportunities for change. Voters would know that even if their preferred candidate loses, term limits set a specific deadline that cannot be changed.
3. It would stop political power maneuvering.
Many of the political machines in the United States are designed to keep people in office. Before his first 100 days in office were even completed, Donald Trump had a 2020 re-election PAC in place and was raising money for his next campaign. Incumbents can wield a lot of power to stay in office and term limits would help to cut this leverage away. The focus can be placed on governing instead of being elected.
4. It would limit the influence of lobbying.
Special interests lobby many of their efforts toward keeping specific people in power once they’ve been elected to Congress. They do this because those people can represent their specific interests. The only problem is that special interests are often contrary to what the will of the people happen to want. By establishing term limits in Congress, more new candidates would be able to present their ideas and that could help to balance out the scales of influence in each election.
5. It allows for newly elected officials to have influence.
The system of seniority in Congress does have some benefits for leadership, but it also comes with a large disadvantage. Newly elected officials rarely receive powerful posts on committees or can influence procedures. That responsibility goes to those who have more seniority and power. As a result, new Senators and Representatives may spend more of their time trying to get a foot in the door than the time they spend actually crafting helpful legislation. Term limits would make it possible for more elected officials to influence the direction of the country.
6. It could limit the potential for corruption.
When politicians have a specific time in office, there is less of a risk of corruption entering into the conversation. Newly elected officials will usually have less knowledge about how to influence Congress for their own personal gain. New members are usually more skeptical of special interest lobbying efforts as well. Having more new faces come through because of term limits would make it more difficult to unduly influence future laws.
7. It could create rogue politicians.
When an elected official is in their last term in office, they can use that opportunity to drive legislation forward that may not be politically popular. They can pursue what they feel is best for their district and their country because criticism and everyday politics can then be ignored. It is a chance to create meaningful and lasting change.
List of the Cons for Congressional Term Limits
1. Good leaders would be forced to retire.
Term limits are beneficial if there are poor leaders in Congress that keep getting re-elected. At the same time, however, you’re also removing the good leaders who work hard and might deserve to stay in office.
2. It changes the learning curve.
There’s a saying that goes, “It takes 6 months to learn a job and another 6 months to become good at it.” Being a Senator or Representative has a learning curve, just like every other job. For Representatives especially, their entire first term might be dedicated to learning how things work in Congress. By enforcing term limits, more politicians would be forced to go through this learning curve and that could mean even less stuff gets done.
3. Networking benefits would be lost.
Over time, politicians develop a professional network, just like most people do in their own line of work. The difference is that the network of a politician can include officials from other governments, from industry leaders, and people with niche expertise. The presence of that network can help stuff get done. Term limits would require more networks to be developed from scratch.
4. It could create rogue politicians.
If a member of Congress is on their last term in office, they know that they won’t be re-elected. There is no motivation for them to be a true representative at that point. They can choose to ignore what their district wants because there is no longer any accountability. Not every politician would go rogue, but term limits would increase the chances that such an event could occur.
These term limits for Congress pros and cons show us that any system put into place will have challenges that must be met. Maybe it is good for some elected officials to spend 50+ years in Congress. Maybe having new perspectives could help the United States move forward more consistently as well.
How do you feel about establishing term limits for Congress?