Vanessa Thompson Persuasive Essay POLS 1100 11/22/2012 Should Members of Congress Have Term Limits? It seems in recent years Americans’ have grown tired of the U.S. Congress and the manner in which they are running the country. In a recent poll conducted by Gallup, graphing the approval ratings of Congress from January 2011 to January 2012, it was found that by the beginning of 2012 only 10% of American’s felt that Congress was doing an adequate job. Surprisingly, this plummet occurred quite rapidly, with approval ratings starting at 20% at the beginning of 2011. 1 It is interesting to find that a country could present such a miniscule amount of support for their Congressmen. However, in a news article published my New York Public Radio in February of 2012, it stated that, “…the average length…a member of Congress has served is just over 10 years.” Furthermore, the article pointed out that, “Some representatives have been in office for more than 40 or 50 years.” 2 This insinuates that the dissatisfaction American’s possess for the House and Senate may indeed have correlation with the lack of term limits that exist within Congress. Frank Newport, “Congress’ Job Approval at New Low of 10%: Republicans and Democrats Equally Negative.” Gallup. Feb 2012. Web. 2 Stephen Reader, “Explainer: Should Congress Have Term Limits? [Part 1]” WNYC.org. Feb 2012. Web. 1 Term limits allow government officials to remain in circulation, disabling individuals from remaining in office for life. This is what the Constitution of the U.S. was built on4, and what keeps America free from dictatorship. This is an idea that has been supported by the Founding Fathers, and is still supported my citizens and politicians in the U.S. today. 3 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney expressed his desire to constitute term limits at a New Hampshire hall meeting, saying "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had people go to Washington for some period of time and then go home and get a real job in the real economy?"3 Moreover, early U.S. Presidents also supported the idea of creating term limits for those elected to office. One in particular, Thomas Jefferson, wrote of his feeling on this issue in a letter to James Madison, stating, “…I dislike, and greatly dislike, ...the abandonment in every instance of the necessity of rotation in office, and most particularly in the case of the President.” He expressed his fear that if a President continued to be re-elected term after term, he may gain the power to hold his position for life, because if “outvoted by one or two votes, he [would] pretend false votes, foul play, hold possession of the reins of government, [and] be supported by the states...” 4 Jefferson observed that a President could obtain negative power if granted the ability to remain in office for life. In short, significant political figures of the past and present have both asserted that term limits are valuable in generating positive results within the U.S. Government. Stephen Reader, “Explainer: Should Congress Have Term Limits? [Part 1]” WNYC.org. Feb 2012. Web. 4 David Hubert, “Introduction to U.S. National Government and Politics” SLCC Textbook. 2012. 3 Presently, Jefferson’s concerns have been addressed in that Presidents can no longer serve for more than 2-terms. However, it still remains that members of the House and Senate can stay in office for an unlimited amount of terms.4 Hence, this gives an uncanny speculation as to why a law that is necessary to the President of the United States is not viewed as essential to Congress. As previously mentioned, congressional approval ratings in the U.S. are currently polling in significantly low. Though, in the recent U.S. general election in November 2012, the people of the U.S. failed to try and reverse their dissatisfaction by voting the majority of the same people back into office in the House and Senate. Democrats’ were able to retain the Senate, while Republicans’ retained the House of Representatives. 5 It has been suggested that some of the disapproval displayed by U.S. citizens’ can be attributed to the political party in which they support. For example, the split vote between the House and Senate in Congress may give reason as to why, generally, people from both political parties are equally discontent. This division may be causing stagnancy within Congress, which has promoted low approval ratings. Although this may give some reason as to why so many within Congress were able to retain their positions, it also gives yet more reason as to why Congress should abide by term limits. Furthermore, only 26 incumbents were defeated in the House in November, and only 1 incumbent was defeated in the Senate. 5 This shows that incumbents are generally favored in being re-elected, proving it is more difficult for a challenger to be voted into office. 5 “2012 U.S. Election Results” washingtonpost.com. Nov 2012. Web. Why would an incumbent be favored regardless of their approval ratings? One answer to this question may be found in the recent U.S. general election’s financial campaign statistics. They have shown that incumbents are receiving significantly more money from PACs than their challengers. It appears that candidates obtaining the majority of their campaign money from PACs, special interest, and businesses are the ones being voted into office. 6 In other words, once an incumbent—the easier it is to stay an incumbent—making it challenging for Congress, who is without term limits, to keep a continual circulation of new members in the House and Senate. So, if term limits appear to be a necessity within Congress, what is currently being done about it? In 2011, a Senator, Jim DeMint, presented a “Term Limits for All” constitutional amendment. This amendment suggested that the House of Representatives be limited to three terms, while Senators be limited to two. DeMint backed his reasons for introducing an amendment of this kind, saying, “We need true citizen legislators who spend their time defending the Constitution, not currying favor with lobbyists.” However, DeMint’s legislation was not able to generate the results he had hoped, and never even made it out of the committee to be voted upon. 7 Obviously this is not a popular issue within Congress, and it may be difficult to get a term limit amendment on a bill. Furthermore, if Congress is ultimately responsible for passing a bill of this nature, it is not as probable that it will ever get passed. Though, there are a few who hold seats in Congress who are taking a stand. A member of the The Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets.org. 2012. Web. Stephen Reader, “Explainer: Should Congress Have Term Limits? [Part 1]” WNYC.org. Feb 2012. Web. 6 7 House, Todd Platt, has been asserting term limits since he was first elected in 2000. To stay true to the principles he has preached, he is surrendering his seat in the House at the end of his term in 2012. And even more, it has been reported that when Platt leaves office, “there will not be a single member of the House of Representatives that only accepts campaign contributions from individuals.” Platt claims he is the only current Representative, “who’s never taken money from businesses, PACs, special interests, or parties.” 7 If more Congressmen were to take stands like that of Platt’s, the U.S. government may be viewed as an institution that abides by the laws it was built on. Platt’s account implies that receiving financial support from PACs, special interest groups, etc. may, in actuality, be a shady business. It is still unclear as to why term limits have been set for the President and not for Congress, and it is apparent that the current situation is in need of reassessment. The “Term Limits for All” amendment suggested by DeMint seems as though it may promote a better congressional system in general. Furthermore, it could boost approval ratings among the American people. And with approval ratings continuing to spiral downward quickly, it can’t hurt to try something new. Hopefully in the future it will be up for more thorough review.