Given the dismal opinion so many of us have of Congress, it’s no surprise that there is increasing consideration being given to the idea of imposing term limits on our U.S. senators and representatives. Here is one person’s solution: the Congressional Reform Act of 2010. Note that the author repeatedly states, “Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.” She adds that “the Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators” who served their term(s), then returned home and got back to their regular jobs. She recommends a term of service not to exceed 12 years whether one were elected to only the House, only the Senate, or to both.
However, in order for term limits requirements to be valid, mere legislation would be inadequate. A constitutional amendment would be necessary to supplement the current language in the U.S. Constitution which makes no provision for limits. This lack of specificity wasn’t an endorsement of career lawmakers by the framers of the document, but rather an understood belief amongst themselves that serving in Congress would be an economic sacrifice, not a boon, and would not be viewed as a lifelong vocation. George Washington himself set the example of term limits when he declined a third term. The Fathers’ assumptions about reelection rates were met pretty well in the 19th century: 40-60% (see the report called “Historical Prevalence of Reelected Representatives in the U.S. House”) in the House. But in the 20th and 21st centuries the percentages rose drastically– up to 90+% in the last six decades, as the graph above illustrates.
Lynn Woolsey has been a Washington lawmaker since 1993 — over 17 years. She’d have exited the House five years ago under the above proposed congressional reform plan. Until and unless formal term limits become a reality, the only option, if we want a Congress that isn’t composed of a professional and elitist political clique, is to cast our vote for new blood much more regularly than we do.
P.S. The graph originated with One-Simple-Idea.com