What’s wrong with the American Government – PART 2

December 28, 2022

I started this series on 12/26/2022 with a discussion of four things wrong with our government that I believe if you fixed either one we would go a long way in fixing our broken system. PART 1 had to do with Paid Lobbyist. This part will have to do with term limits for members of congress.

The history of various votes on term limits

For years there have been arguments as to whether members of congress (House of Representatives and Senators) should have term limits or not. I also question whether membership to the U. S. Supreme Court should be a lifetime appointment. The paragraphs below come from govinfo.gov.

In 1789, Representative Thomas Tucker offered the first term limits proposal: a 1-year Senate term limited to 5 years in any 6-year period and a 2-year House term limited to 6 years in any 8-year period. Tucker’s motion to refer the proposal to the Committee of the Whole was defeated August 18, 1789.

A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first term limits hearings on September 27, 1945, regarding S.J. Res. 21, a resolution to limit service of the President, Vice-President, and Members of Congress to 6 years.

The first Senate vote on term limits occurred on March 12, 1947 Senator W. Lee O’Daniel of Texas introduced an amendment to limit congressional terms to the proposed constitutional amendment in H.J. Res. 27, which limited the President to two terms. The O’Daniel amendment failed by a vote of 82 to 1.

Term limits were revisited by the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution at hearings on March 14 and 16, 1978. The subcommittee considered S.J. Res. 27, and S.J. Res. 28, which limited Senators to two terms and House Members to seven terms and six terms, respectively.

The next Senate vote on term limits occurred May 22, 1991. Senator Hank Brown of Colorado offered an amendment to S. 3, a campaign finance reform bill, to limit the use of public funds by representatives or Senators who serve an aggregate of more than 12 years in the House or Senate. The Brown amendment was tabled by a vote of 68 to 30.

The last Senate vote on congressional term limits occurred on May 26, 1993. Senator Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina and Senator Brown again offered an amendment to a campaign finance reform measure that would restrict the use of public funds for those serving more than 12 years. The amendment was tabled by a vote of 57 to 39.

The House of Representatives held hearings on the subject of term limits during the 103d Congress. The House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights held hearings on November
18, 1993, and June 29, 1994, to discuss the history of term limits, the Framers’ view of rotation in office, and the arguments for and against term limitations.

On January 19, 1995, Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee introduced Senate Joint Resolution 21 proposing a constitutional amendment to limit congressional terms to two terms for Senators and three terms for Representatives.

The Subcommittee on Constitution, Federalism, and Property Rights of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held hearings on congressional term limits on January 25, 1995. The subcommittee took testimony on S.J. Res. 21 and S.J. Res. 19 as well as the statutory approaches to term limits embodied in S. 271 and S. 272.

Following the hearing, the subcommittee marked up S.J. Res. 21 on February 1, 1995. The three following amendments were adopted by voice vote:

  1. Clarify that the amendment will apply prospectively;
  2. change the ratification procedure from ratification by State constitutional conventions to ratification by State legislatures;
  3. impose a term limit of six terms on Representatives.

The subcommittee passed S.J. Res. 21, as amended by rollcall vote, with five yeas and three nays.

Senate Joint Resolution 21, as amended, was marked up by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on February 9, 1995. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont offered an amendment to apply term limits retroactively. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 11 nays to 5 yeas.

The committee then passed S.J. Res. 21 by a rollcall vote, with 11 yeas and 7 nays.

The first House vote on term limits occurred March 29, 1995, when one resolution and three amendments were considered. Representative Bill McCollum of Florida authored the underlying
House Joint Resolution 73 proposing a constitutional amendment to limit congressional terms to two terms for Senators and six terms for Representatives.

The first amendment to H.J. Res. 73, offered by Representative Pete Peterson of Florida, would make term limits retroactive and limit Representatives to six terms and Senators to two terms. It would also protect State laws limiting congressional terms of service if the State laws are shorter. This amendment was rejected 135 to 297.

The second amendment, offered by Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, proposed to limit Members of the House to three terms and Members of the Senate to two terms and defines
a full term to be more than 50 percent of a term. This amendment failed by a vote of 114 to 316.

The third amendment, offered by Representative Van Hilleary of Tennessee, proposed to limit Representatives to six terms in office and Senators to two terms, while allowing State laws to
preempt the legislation if State limits are shorter. This amendment also failed, by a vote of 164 to 265.
A final vote on H.J. Res. 73 failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds of those present, by a vote of 227 to 204.

I encourage you to click on the link above (or here) and read the entire Senate Report 104-158.

The House on March 29, 1995 rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to limit the terms of members of Congress (HJ Res 73). The vote, which was the first outright defeat on a plank of the House Republicans’ “Contract With America,” ended action on term limits for the year.

Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., promised to revisit the issue the following year, telling reporters after the House vote that term limits would be a potent Republican weapon in the 1996 elections. “It’s coming back. We’re going to talk about it all year. We’re going to talk about it next year,” Gingrich said. He added that Democrats exhibited a “suicidal desire” in their overwhelming opposition.

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., countered that voters were focused on bread-and-butter issues such as jobs, education and crime. “They don’t talk to me about term limits,” Gephardt said. “I do not believe it is an issue that they live with every day.“

I have to wonder if Richard A Gephardt was just not listening to his voters!

Why no term limits for congress? The U. S. Constitution:

Figure 1 from Thoughtco.com

In an article from Thoughtco.com that was just updated 04/16/2022 I found the following:

Since the early 1990s, the long-running demand to impose term limits on the Senators and Representatives elected to the U.S. Congress has intensified. Considering that since 1951 the President of the United States has been limited to two terms, term limits for members of Congress seem reasonable. There’s just one thing in the way: the U.S. Constitution.

Even before the Revolutionary War, several American colonies applied term limits. For example, under Connecticut’s “Fundamental Orders of 1639,” the colony’s governor was prohibited from serving consecutive terms of only one year, and stating that “no person be chosen Governor above once in two years.” After independence, Pennsylvania’s Constitution of 1776 limited members of the state’s General Assembly from serving more than “four years in seven.

At the federal level, the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781, set term limits for delegates to the Continental Congress – the equivalent of the modern Congress – mandating that “no person shall be capable of being a delegate for more than three years in any term of six years.”

Senators and Representatives from 23 states faced term limits from 1990 to 1995, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional with its decision in the case of U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton.

In a 5-4 majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not impose congressional term limits because the Constitution simply did not grant them the power to do so.

In his majority opinion, Justice Stevens noted that allowing the states to impose term limits would result in “a patchwork of state qualifications” for members of the U.S. Congress, a situation he suggested would be inconsistent with “the uniformity and national character that the framers sought to ensure.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that state-specific term limits would jeopardize the “relationship between the people of the Nation and their National Government.”

The Founding Fathers considered—and rejected—the idea of term limits for Congress. A majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 felt that the longer they served, the more experienced, knowledgeable, and thus, effective members of Congress would become. As Father of the Constitution James Madison explained in Federalist Papers No. 53:

“[A] few of the members of Congress will possess superior talents; will by frequent re-elections, become members of long standing; will be thoroughly masters of the public business, and perhaps not unwilling to avail themselves of those advantages. The greater the proportion of new members of Congress, and the less the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt they be to fall into the snares that may be laid before them,” wrote Madison.

Oh if James Madison were alive today to see the problems he caused!

Delegates who sided with Madison in opposing term limits argued that regular elections by the people could be a better check on corruption than constitutional term limits and that such restrictions would create their problems. Ultimately, the anti-term limits forces won out and the Constitution was ratified without them.

So now the only remaining way to impose term limits on Congress is to undertake the long and uncertain task of amending the Constitution.

This can be done in one of two ways. First, Congress can propose a term limits amendment with a two-thirds “supermajority” vote. In January 2021, Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, along with Marco Rubio of Florida and other Republican colleagues, introduced a bill (S.J.Res.3) calling for a constitutional amendment that would limit senators to two six-year terms and House members to three two-year terms. 

In introducing the bill, Senator Cruz argued, “Though our Founding Fathers declined to include term limits in the Constitution, they feared the creation of a permanent political class that existed parallel to, rather than enmeshed within, American society.

Should Congress pass the bill, which as history has proven, is highly doubtful, the amendment would be sent to the states for ratification. 

If Congress refuses to pass a term limits amendment, the states could do it. Under Article V of the Constitution, if two-thirds (currently 34) of the state legislatures vote to demand it, Congress is required to convene a full constitutional convention to consider one or more amendments. 

The Aging Senators Argument

Another common argument in favor of congressional term limits is the advancing age of lawmakers who, for various reasons, continually win reelection. 

According to the Congressional Research Service, 23 members of the Senate are in their 70s at the beginning of 2022, while the average age of senators was 64.3 years—the oldest in history. Thus the debate goes on: Experience vs. new ideas? Career politicians vs. short-timers? Old vs. young? Baby Boomers vs. Gen X, Y (millennials), or Z?

Senators—more so than representatives—often remain in office for decades because their constituents are reluctant to give up the advantages of incumbency: Seniority, committee chairmanships, and all the money poured into their states. For example, West Virginia’s Senator Robert Byrd, who was in his ninth term when he died at age 92, funneled an estimated $10 billion to his state during his 51 years in the Senate, according to the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History.

In 2003, South Carolina’s Senator Strom Thurmond retired at age 100 after serving 48 years in the Senate. The not-very-well-hidden secret was that during his last term, which ended six months before his death, his staff did virtually everything for him but push the vote button.  

While the Founding Fathers created minimum age requirements for serving in the House, Senate, or as president, they did not address a maximum age. So the question remains: How long should members of Congress be allowed to work? In 1986, Congress passed a law ending mandatory retirement by age 65 for most professions except the military, law enforcement, commercial pilots, air traffic controllers, and, in a few states, judges.

In the article mentioned Why No Term Limits for Congress? The Constitution the writer does a good job of mentioning the Pros and Cons of term limits and I recommend you read the article.

Here are some of the pros to term limits on congress:

  • Limits Corruption
  • Congress – it’s Not a Job
  • Bring in Some Fresh Ideas
  • Reduce Fundraising Pressure

Here are some cons to term limits on congress:

  • It’s Undemocratic
  • Experience is Valuable
  • Throwing Out the Baby With the Bathwater
  • Getting to Know Each Other
  • Won’t Really Limit Corruption

Established in the early 1990s, the Washington, D.C. based U.S. Term Limits (USTL) organization has advocated for term limits at all levels of government. In 2016, USTL launched its Term Limits Convention, a project to amend the Constitution to require congressional term limits. Under the Term Limits Convention program, the state legislatures are encouraged to enact term limits for the members of Congress elected to represent their states.

The ultimate goal of the USTL is to get the 34 states required by Article V of the Constitution to demand a convention to consider amending the Constitution to require term limits for Congress. Recently, USTL reported that 17 of the needed 34 states had passed resolutions calling for an Article V constitutional convention. If adopted by a constitutional convention, the term limits amendment would have to be ratified by 38 states.

CITATION: Longley, Robert. “Why No Term Limits for Congress? The Constitution.” ThoughtCo, Jul. 13, 2022, thoughtco.com/why-no-term-limits-for-congress-3974547.

Naturally, I tend to agree with the Pros mentioned above and disagree with the Cons. I am not the only one, apparently, who thinks term limits are needed. In an article Term Limits Amendment, I found the following statement:

Term limits are a non-partisan issue supported by a whopping 82% of the population. There have been strides in both Congress and by the states towards imposing term limits on Congress.

And Ron Desantis, Florida Governor had this to say: “We believe that the rise of political careerism in modern Washington is a drastic departure from what the founders intended of our federal governing bodies. To effectively ‘drain the swamp,’ we believe it is past time to enact term limits for Congress.” 

So, what will it take to get term limits constitutionally?

Figure 2 – Termlimits.com article

It is my contention that by imposing term limits on congress we will …

  • Limit Corruption; Currently career politicians seem to care more about themselves and their big money donors than they do about taking care of the average American.
  • We will be making the statement that Congress Is Not A Career: Those who enter congress will know that they only have a limited amount of time to make the impact they want to make and that eventually they will have to go back to living a normal American’s life under the laws that they pass.
  • We will be bringing in New Fresh Ideas to govern by: I’ve always believed that if we rid congress of Lawyers, Doctors and other “Professional People” and have common people serve – new ideas will be brought to the forefront that could benefit everyone in the country.
  • We will reduce fundraising pressure as well as lobbying pressure: If congress is limited to maximum terms there will be no reason why existing members of congress will have to raise such ungodly amounts of money to be voted in for another term.
  • We have term limits for the President: If we are going to have term limits for the executive branch of government I see no reason why we should not have term limits for the Legislative (and Judicial) branches of government. Back in James Madison’s day (and the other founders of the country) there were not any term limits for the President or the Legislators because Experience was important, or so they believed. However, on February 27, 1951 the 22nd Amendment was ratified, limiting the number of terms served by the president to a maximum of two four year terms. When term limits are found in presidential systems they act as a method of curbing the potential for monopoly, where a leader effectively becomes “president for life”. This is intended to protect a republic from becoming a de facto dictatorship. If this is true for the presidency the same can be said for the Legislative Branch and Judicial Branch of Government.

I believe if we start limiting members of congress to just two terms for senators and four terms for representatives (giving senators 12 years to serve and representatives 8 years to serve) we will go a long way in fixing our broken government. I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts on the subject.

Next up – Excessive Spending of Taxpayer money!

Thank You,

Jerry Nix | Freewavemaker, LLC

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