It is hard to imagine that our Founding Fathers, many of whom were private businessmen that put their own business on hold while forming our government, envisioned career politicians holding office for 20, 30, and 40 years. Perhaps that is why when writing our Constitution, numerous restriction were put in place on eligibility to serve in Congress, but none related to length of service. In the 19th Century, the turnover rate of Congress was consistently 45-50% as members served their duty and returned to the private sector. Since 1990 the turnover rate has averaged less than 7% every two years in Congressional elections despite record low approval ratings. Why?
Finances: According to the FEC 2012 reports, the House incumbents raised $237 million to the challengers $19 million. House members receive on average $1 million per year (including franking privilege) for staff and office expense. Staff is often used in an election cycle for campaign purposes under the guise of “constituent outreach”. Challengers are at a distinct disadvantage from Day 1.
Lobbyist: With the advent of PAC’s and Super PAC’s, much of the campaign finance imbalance can be attributed to the influx of outside influence monies. It’s no secret that on the first day in office, members of Congress are already beginning their solicitations for contributions to the next election.
What would term limits accomplish?
Restoration of a Congress where votes are cast based on what is best for our country rather than what is best for reelection chances. Look no further than our last gov’t shutdown crisis where many members voted out of fear of being “primaried” rather then what they truly felt was in our country’s best interest.
Reduction in pork barrel spending. Candidates who are facing term expiration will no longer feel the pressure to “bring home the bacon” and curry favor with their constituents.
Reduction of lobbyist and crony capitalism. The need to continually feed a candidate monies to keep them in office is reduced if there is an expiration date.
Arguments against term limits.
Elections are a form of term limits; As outlined above, the incumbents have a significant advantage over challengers. Much of that advantage is derived from tax payer monies.
It reduces Congressional experience; Congress is no place for on the job training. If a member of the House or Senate needs 6-10 years to gain experience, they are truly in the wrong position.
The GOP’s 1994 Contract With America contained an item called Citizens Legislature Act that called for a maximum (12) years service yet was never enacted. Today, 20 years later, many of those same legislators are still in office
In 2012, the Senate brought to the floor a bill to adopt an Amendment to the Constitution limiting the number of terms a Senator could serve. It was defeated 75-24 in one of the rare bi-partisan votes.
Many groups, both left and right are once again advocating for Congressional term limits. We need to offer support to each of these groups regardless of ideology.