This paper argues that the only way to get congressional term limits is to stage a political uprising by using their power to amend the Constitution and impose term limits on their legislators.
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 [email protected] (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 legislators. 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 [email protected] 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 much more 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 [email protected] 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. References Bandow, Doug. “Real Term Limits: Now More Than Ever,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis April 6, 1995. (www.cato.org) Clegg, Roger. AIs It Time for a Second Constitutional [email protected] Washington: National Legal Center for the Public Interest, 1995. (www.clegg.com)-I 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/quotes.com) Moore, Stephen and Steelman, Aaron. “An Antidote to Federal Red Ink: Term Limits,” Cato Institute Briefing Paper no. 21, November 3, 1994, p. 21. (Http://www.cato.org) Payne, James, AThe Culture of Spending: Why Congress Lives beyond Our [email protected] 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 (www.cato.org) 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.