Serving in Congress should be a calling, not a career. Anyone running for office should want to get in, bring fresh ideas to the debate, pass legislation that improves the country, and then let someone else come in with their own fresh ideas.
Instead, we have a political class that has entrenched itself in power, remaining there for far too long. We need to get Congress back in the habit of serving the people, not serving out careers.
Some elections have seen reelection rates at 98%, with 90% being the norm. Even years where a wave election happens, reelection rates tend to be above 80%. Compare this to earlier elections with much higher turnover rates, such as in 1854 when around a third of all seats changed hands.
Around 13% of the House will have served for almost 2 decades in 2020, which pales to the approx. 20% in the Senate. That’s too long a tenure.
With that much time, individuals can amass power that will lead to self-dealing. Being entrenched in a seat, especially with how strong the incumbent advantage is in such a polarized nation with a two-party system, leads to legislators that are less responsive to their constituents. And, finally, power has been shown to literally cause brain damage, eroding certain types of decision-making.
With term limits, members of Congress would get what they went to DC to accomplish done and then go home. It would make room for new leaders with new experiences and fresh ideas. It would make time in Congress about reaching a goal, not reaching retirement after a long career with a good salary at the expense of the public. And it would give legislators a period of time when they didn’t need to constantly fundraise, as their final term wouldn’t hold the option for reelection.
There are some benefits to no term limits. Legislators gain experience over time, and they form coalitions. Short term limits would also entrench the non-legislative bureaucracy.
This is why the best balance would be longer term limits - 12 years for each chamber of Congress. This would allow legislators enough time to build up sufficient experience and relationships to accomplish their goals, and then get them out before they stagnate and start to engage in self-dealing. It would allow the regular infusion of fresh ideas from new members of Congress. And it would ensure that the political class that makes Congress feel like a distant and unresponsive organization wouldn’t be able to develop.
Problems to be Solved
- checkAllowing legislators to run for their seats without limit creates a stagnant political class that isn’t responsive to constituents or modern problems that require fresh solutions.
- checkAllowing legislators to hold office without end leads to the amassing of power that can lead to corruption and, literally, brain damage.
- Term limits in DC are a good idea. They would lead legislators to get something done and then go home. Term limits would also make room for new leaders with fresh ideas. The drawback is that they would entrench the non-legislative bureaucracy, since legislators would have a harder time organizing and forming coalitions. The best balance, then, is a 12-year term limit that would be long enough for expertise and coalitions to build without letting legislators become careerist and self-dealing.
- checkKeep legislators from becoming entrenched in a political class
- checkKeep legislators focused on solving problems instead of getting reelected
- checkGet new ideas into Congress regularly