Given the performance of Congress so far this year – and the past several years, for that matter – now is a good time to talk about term limits for the U.S. House and Senate.
Let’s face it: From the annual failure to approve a real budget to the recent healthcare legislation debacle, it has never been more clear that Congress is dysfunctional. For the most part, it is incapable of fulfilling even the most basic responsibilities.
When they return to Washington in a couple of weeks after their district and state “work periods”, the House and Senate will have only days to resolve fundamental issues of the debt ceiling and how much the government will spend in the coming year. Those are time crunches of their own making and dysfunction, and in the private sector, would be job-ending irresponsibility.
Something has to change. Electing a handful more R’s or D’s on the edges every two years isn’t going to fix it, when even in a “change” election, more than 90 percent of Congress will end up being the same career politicians who are the issue.
Getting things done for the right reasons
Imagine what would happen if Members of the U.S. House were limited by the Constitution to serving only three terms and Senators limited to two terms. Like Governors in 36 states where some degree of term limits are in place, they would know from Day 1 that they were sent to Congress to do a job, only have a certain period of time to do it, and would be driven not by securing a life-long career, but by a fear of failure in their one shot at serving and making a difference.
They might get some things done – and do them for the right reasons.
With term limits, legislators wouldn’t have time to get too comfortable in their seats, forget who sent them there, and shift their loyalties to the special interests who have literally billions of dollars invested in the status quo.
No longer would Congress be a career. It would be the opportunity to serve that the Founders envisioned.
Why Americans want term limits
The American people want term limits. Poll after poll, for many years, have shown overwhelming support. That’s why so many states have enacted them for governors and state legislatures. The problem, obviously, is that the one group who don’t want them are the people in power and the special interests who depend on them.
Congress won’t fix itself. That is abundantly clear.
Fortunately, if Congress won’t act on a constitutional amendment to put federal term limits in place, the founders presciently gave the American people a way to amend the Constitution without Congress’ approval. That solution is an Article V Convention to deal specifically with the question of term limits.
If two-thirds of the states pass bills calling for such a convention, Congress is legally bound to convene one – with the delegates chosen by the respective states. If and when the convention approves a proposed term-limit amendment, it goes to the states for ratification, bypassing Congress.
It’s a dramatic solution. But it’s a dramatic problem, and we all know that Congress won’t fix it on their own.
(Photo of Bill Weld speaking at the National Press Club in July 2016.)