Our current Congress is among the oldest in American history. It is also among the least productive. Octogenarians (persons between 80 and 89 years old) in the U.S. Senate include Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Chuck Grassley, R-IA, Orrin Hatch, R-UT, Richard Shelby, R-AL, Jim Inhofe, R-OK, Pat Roberts, R-KS, and Barbara Mikulski, D-MD.
Not surprisingly, there is a high correlation between age achieved and length of time served in the Senate. For example, Feinstein is 85 and has served 26 years in the Senate to date. She has just been reelected to another six-year term. So, if Father Time is kind to her, she will be a nonagenarian Senator before her next term expires. Grassley, also 85, has served nearly 38 years and now chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee that recently held the controversial Kavanaugh hearings that ultimately led to his confirmation for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. There is also a high correlation between age and seniority when it comes to clout, especially in the Senate, because of its “Advice and consent” role with the president, and its “sole power to try impeachments” of the president and other officials.
What applies above to the Senate also applies to a lesser extent to the House of Representatives. Its members are aging, too, and many have remained in office well into their dotage. Still, they dodder on, clinging to their perks and power, thanks to tenure and seniority.
Given these problems with both houses of Congress, is it time for congressional term limits?
In my view, it’s way past time to at least consider the relative merits of limiting members of Congress to a finite number of terms, say, two six-year terms in the Senate, and three or four two-year terms in the House.
The idea of term limits is nothing new, of course. In fact, the President of the United States has been term-limited for nearly 68 years by Amendment 22 of our Constitution. Ratified Feb. 27, 1951, it states in part, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice…” That two-term limit first applied to our 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served from 1953 to 1961 and it has applied to all our presidents since, including President Trump.
So, if we the people have term-limited the President of the United States, who theoretically represents every man, woman and child in the USA, why not consider limiting the terms of members in both houses of Congress, who represent much narrower constituencies? It makes sense to me.
However, bringing term limits for Congress won’t be easy. Expect long-standing members of both houses to resist such a threat to their status quo. Powerful lobbyists and special interest groups will fight term limits to the bitter end, too.
Still, I think limiting the terms of our national legislators is worth a try. That’s what amendments are designed to do, as envisioned by our founders and framers. I’ll have more later on some ways to do just that, including one that’s never been used, but might work anyway.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.