Congressional Term Limits: Tumultuous Territory

Ryan Heshmati

July 22, 2022 (Last Modified July 25, 2022)

Career politicians, like Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, have been in office for decades and continue to increase their power and influence. To prevent further career politicians, some have proposed congressional term limits. The fear is not new to the United States; the Brutus essays of the Antifederalist Papers, for which this journal is named after, expressed concern over term guidelines for the Senate. A 2016 Rasmussen survey found seventy-four percent of Americans believe in the establishment of Congressional term limits, but they have yet to be passed. Proponents argue Congressional term limits allow non-incumbents an easier path to a seat.

Those who assert term limits should be adopted — hold contrasting views. Rather than viewing them as undemocratic, proponents, like The Heritage Foundation’s Dan Greenberg, in “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean Up Congress,” feel they assist the democratic process to work. Without the temptation for voters of constantly re-electing whichever name has “Incumbent” beside it, new candidates with new ideas may have better shots at winning. In addition to the aforementioned popularity of term limits among Americans, another reason some view them as necessary is their potential impact on special interests. Special interests, they argue, have worked hard to build relationships with many longer-serving officials and their removal could potentially prove to be a major setback.

Opponents, like Brookings’ Casey Burgat, point out, term limits restrict the force of voters. Even if a majority of voters want an incumbent re-elected, as a result of term limits, that may not happen. Not to mention, removing experienced members of the Legislative branch from office would negatively impact its ability to make laws. With term limits labeled undemocratic and a drag on efficiency, some believe they should not be instituted. Even further, while proponents present them as a threat to special interests, others see it the other way around. Burgat, in “Five reasons to oppose congressional term limits” also contends,  “…that more novice legislators will look to fill their own informational and policy gaps by an increased reliance on special interests and lobbyists.” With an inexperienced group of politicians taking office frequently, he asserts, they will defer to what lobbyists whisper in their ears.

While more and more bring up Supreme Court term limits, it is worth refocusing, or adding another spotlight, onto the same for Congress. An issue with direct implications on the American system of government, it is important not to be treated lightly. Whether or not term limits should be tested in Congress should be a conclusion reached only after the careful consideration of history, perspectives, and implications of such a decision.