The call for term limits

As you may or may not know, I am an advocate for term limits. I didn’t always think this way, as there was a period I subscribed to the libertarian view that voters should have the fullest possible choice of representation and if that meant sending some senile old bat to Congress for the twentieth straight term, well, that’s what the people wanted.

Unfortunately, like many other things, the bad apples ruin things for the rest of us and occasionally limits have to be placed. Since the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951, there is precedent for federal term limits so I came around to the notion of a 24-year lifetime limit in Congress (six terms in the House, two in the Senate.) I expound on this further in my book.

So I was pleased the other day to see this release from U.S. Term Limits:

This afternoon, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would limit the number of terms that a Congress member may serve to three in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.

Term limits for members of Congress has been spotlighted in recent weeks as former Senator and Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman announced that after reflection on his 24 years in office that he now supported term limits.

The Lieberman statement was followed by a polls conducted by the Gallup Organization released last week showing that the American people would vote for congressional term limits by a 75 – 21 margin.

Phil Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits, the nation’s largest term limits advocacy group, called on Congress to send the Constitutional Amendment to the states for them to decide saying, “The public clearly wants term limits, and it is the ultimate conflict of interest for federal elected officials to prevent the states from making the decision on whether their own terms should be limited.”

Senator Vitter is introducing the amendment on a tide of public dissatisfaction with Congress, and Blumel believes this public outcry may break the log jam that has prevented consideration.

“Many members of Congress are hearing from their constituents that they want the tough issues in D.C. to be acted upon rather than a continual kicking of the can down the road.  In this context, they are realizing that a constitutional amendment limiting terms for members of Congress may be the only way to make our political system work again.”

It is anticipated that a term limits amendment will be introduced in the House of Representatives in the weeks ahead. In the interim, Vitter is reaching out to his fellow Senators seeking co-sponsors of the amendment.

In a letter sent to members of the Senate prior to the introduction, Blumel urged others to join Vitter as co-sponsors writing, “Now, Congress faces a crisis. The people hold the legislative branch of our federal government in such low regard largely because they believe that they are no longer represented by fellow citizens but instead by professional politicians. It is time to change this. It is time to put citizens back in charge. It is time to pass congressional term limits.

To become part of the U.S. Constitution, the amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress and ratification by three quarters or 38 out of 50 states. (Emphasis mine.)

The reason I emphasized the part of the U.S. Term Limits statement – and the addition which upgraded this from being an “odds and ends” item to one deserving a post all its own – is the sponsor of the companion House legislation. Dated the same day (January 22):

Today, Representative Andy Harris M.D. introduced a Joint Resolution (H.J. Res. 22 – editor) that would limit the number of consecutive terms that a person could serve in the U.S. Congress. It would limit persons to two consecutive terms in the U.S. Senate and six consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Representative Harris released the following statement on the bill:

“Limiting Congressional terms is a common sense way to change Washington and make sure our elected leaders work for the people instead of the special interests. We need more citizen leaders who are willing to address our challenges instead of coming to Washington to become career politicians. Far too many of our leaders are more worried about the next election than addressing out of control spending or preserving our entitlement programs. We need to break the gridlock in Washington caused in part by career politicians.”

The only difference between what Harris proposes and what I advocated is that there’s no lifetime limit, just a one-year exemption. I’d rather the lifetime limit be amended onto this because it is a Constitutional amendment being proposed. It’s also somewhat weaker than Vitter’s proposal, which may be why U.S. Term Limits didn’t mention it.

Honestly, though, I don’t see either bill getting very far UNLESS we put a lot of pressure on Democrats to vote for it. And considering half of Maryland’s delegation is either approaching or beyond that six-term/two-term threshold I don’t see a lot of support coming its way. (They wouldn’t be affected as current officeholders but most have made a lifetime of political office; I’m looking at you, Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski.)

The same should hold true for Maryland state legislators, but to date I’m not aware of any bill which would limit their terms. If one were to pass – doubtful for the same reasons a federal law would pass – it would have to go to the voters and, if the Gallup numbers are anywhere near correct it would pass.

But a phenomenon present in national elections would also probably work to our detriment in a state election. While many people have a “throw the bums out” mentality, that doesn’t extend to their particular bum. How else can a body which collectively has approval ratings in the teens or below otherwise retain over 80 to 90 percent of those members who choose to run for re-election? If they enforced their own term limits there would be no need for a Constitutional amendment; sadly we are at the point we are because voters don’t have the will or desire to do so.

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