Term Limits for Congress

You know what would be really cool? It’d be really cool if Russ Taff and Jon Gibson made an album together. But another thing that would be cool would be if we had term limits for Congress.

We used to have a tradition in this country that Presidents would serve no more than two terms. It was a tradition that was started by George Washington—it was just one of many gifts he gave this country. This tradition was followed for well over 100 years until Franklin Roosevelt decided to run for a third term. He wasn’t the first President to consider doing this; he was simply the first one to have the chutzpah and the popularity to make it happen. And he had a pretty powerful argument: We were facing the worst economic crisis in our nation’s history and the world was engaged in the all-time biggest war. It hardly seemed like the right occasion to turn things over to a rookie.

Well, the Great Depression ended and World War Two turned out pretty good for us. Nevertheless, there was a strong sentiment that we did not want one person to have so much power for so long, ever again. So now it doesn’t matter what a President wants—he (or someday maybe she) cannot serve for three or more terms.

Isn’t it time we consider something like this for Congress? As an institution it wastes a whole lot of money on pork barrel projects designed to get people re-elected. They avoid hard decisions that might cost them votes, too. Wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t have to worry about such things? Government efficiency would be improved, which would serve the public good. And it would also make it easier to strip away some of the costly perks Congress has voted for itself over the years.

Republicans shocked the experts and took over Congress in 1994, partially on a promise to push through term limits for Congress. But as the great Lord Acton once said, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Once the Republicans had taken over, the logic for limiting themselves seemed less persuasive. Now, it’s more of a philosophical issue for them than a practical one—the electorate turned on the Republicans just as it did the Democrats. Once again, the Republicans are the minority party in Congress because they squandered their opportunity.

For as unpopular as George W. Bush was by the end of his second term, he still polled ahead of Congress. In light of that fact, why not give the idea of term limits for Congress a try? How much worse could it get?