Federalism

Federal Term Limits and the Article V Amendments Convention

The views expressed in this article are those of a subject matter expert and do not necessarily reflect model policies adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Congressional term limits are a priority for the American people. If you live in the United States, you live under a term-limited President, and your Governor is probably term-limited as well. Term limits are a piece of our American fabric. They’re no rebellion against experience, but rather a balancing force that keeps certain offices and branches of government from obtaining too much power.

That is why, in April of 2015, the Missouri House voted for an amendment to term limit their Governor. It is also why, in Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner continues to fight to term limit Michael Madigan and the Illinois General Assembly. The U.S. State Department supports term limits overseas routinely chiding dictators who run roughshod over them.

Even the U.S. Congress believes in term limits for the executive branch. If not, they would send an amendment to the states to allow second term presidents to stay in power.

It is rare to find policymakers who agree on the right time and place for term limits. But almost all agree there is a time and place. The Term Limits Convention aims to build on this common ground.

Congress is the problem. As America’s fiscal outlook worsens, lawmakers refuse to make the choices necessary to turn things around. Since defeating a federal incumbent is nearly impossible, the people who can fix D.C. must wait for an open seat to make their move. With some members in office for decades, our country cannot afford to wait that long.

Leaders’ distance from the people has grown as representation dilutes. While the size of Congress has not changed in a century, America’s population has tripled. That makes it far more difficult for the average citizen to hold his congressman accountable.

Members of Congress are not relying on retail politics to stay in office. They have exchanged knocking on doors for the revolving door, and have some of the highest re-election rates in the world.

Twenty-five percent of Congress has been in office for more than 16 years. By the end of 2016, nine members will have been in office for more than 40 years.

Term limits would reverse this trend by ensuring that open-seat races are held on a regular basis. The best and brightest minds in our states, who are currently blocked from serving in Congress by tenured politicians, would finally have the opportunity to move upward and make their case to the American people. Term limits also address the top-down power structure in Washington, by allowing for less senior members to hold leadership roles. This means Congress will not only get an infusion of new talent, but that all of its members will be empowered to make a difference.

The simplicity and familiarity of the Term Limits Convention resolution is perhaps its greatest strength. There is no confusion, because people easily grasp how term limits work. It is the most concise policy platform to be presented under Article V.

Also important is the fact that no specific term limit has been shoehorned into the Term Limits Convention resolution. This will allow for deliberation on the matter by the states’ chosen delegates to the Convention.

Term limits have always been a unifying issue, because supermajorities of Republicans and Democrats support it. According to a nationwide McLaughlin poll we commissioned, 78 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Independents support a convention for term limits on Congress.

That means, on the climb upward to 34 and later 38 states, blue states as well as red will be in play. Changes in legislative control in the states will not keep this effort from moving forward.

I will leave you with the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, a term limits supporter. When he saw the Constitution written at Philadelphia in 1787, he spotted a huge omission: the absence of term limits. He said “the total abandonment of the principle of rotation in office” would end in abuse.

Rotation-in-office was Jefferson’s wording for term limits.

Congress will not enact term limits on themselves. It is up to the state legislatures to see this through, and just this month Florida became the first state to call for the Term Limits Convention. There may never be a better time for us to act.


In Depth: Federalism

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