Persuasive Essay

Vanessa Thompson
Persuasive Essay
POLS 1100
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
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]” Feb 2012. Web.
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]” Feb 2012. Web.
4 David Hubert, “Introduction to U.S. National Government and Politics” SLCC
Textbook. 2012.
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
“2012 U.S. Election Results” 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, 2012. Web.
Stephen Reader, “Explainer: Should Congress Have Term Limits? [Part 1]” Feb 2012. Web.
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.