My column last week on the case for congressional term limits drew an avalanche of responses. By emails, phone calls, text messages, and face-to-face conversations, nearly 100 percent of the respondents agree with me it is high time to enact term limits for members of Congress.
The question is how to do it. The answer is don’t expect Congress to take the initiative. As my OCS classmate Dan Telfair has aptly noted, “Unfortunately, it is contrary to nature to act against one’s self-interest. To expect politicians to vote themselves out of office is unrealistic … We have a system that rewards them for acting in self-interest.”
Dan is right, of course. Congress has a long and consistent history of defeating proposals for term limits. Even among those who campaigned on favoring term limits, most of them changed their tune once they were in office.
Most of my attentive readers are familiar with the role of Congress in proposing amendments to our Constitution. Proposals require a “two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress.” Although dozens of resolutions are introduced in most every session, Congress has proposed only 31 amendments. Of those, 27 have been ratified, including the first 10, known collectively as The Bill of Rights.
Given our elected officials’ reluctance to sign their own “pink slip,” I believe we must turn to what I alluded to last week as a “little-known and never-used constitutional path to term limits that could help solve our careerist Congress problem.”
That twofold path is outlined in our Constitution’s Article V, which states in part, that amendments may also be proposed “on the Application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of several states,” Congress “shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof …”
So, the first step on the path to term limits for Congress is for two-thirds of our state legislatures to request a national convention called by Congress to craft proposals for term limits for both houses of Congress. I prefer two, six-year Senate terms and three, four-year House terms. The latter would help reduce the tendency toward constant campaigning and fixation on fundraising for House members.
Once the national convention of delegates from the various states have discussed, debated, compromised, and come to a conclusion on the details of term limits, their proposed amendment must then be approved by ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states. Upon ratification, the term limit amendment would become part of our Constitution.
I admit all of this is easier said than done. That may be why it’s never been done. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Given the sorry state of our careerist Congress, it’s certainly worth a try. If you agree with me, stand up and speak out on this issue, especially to your state legislators. They hold the key to getting the term limit ball rolling. And they work for us.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.