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Twenty-Eighth Amendment: Congressional Term Limits Essay

Democracy is deified as a government ruled by its people, a society represented by its own members forming a self deciding and self governed community. This very essential ideal established the founders of the United States has become harder to uphold, and there are restraints that do not allow for true democracy to be fully expressed. Extra-governmental actions by special interests and the intricate costs of campaigns has married the economic and political arenas and it has resulted the creation of heavily influenced representatives that no longer serve their original function- to represent the interest of their constituents. The functionality of today’s political system would be unrecognizable to that of the original Constitution and that of the founders.

The absence of term limits of House and Senate representatives have causes two elements that infringes on the democratic value of the government of the United States; now members of the congress and senate are career politicians and hold office for many ulterior reasons other than the honor of public service, and secondly this notion has now created a political class an exclusive society that dictates the legislative process. An Amendment to the Constitution is necessary to overturn the previous institutional establishment of limitless terms for senators and house representatives, because amendments are the only way to modify the articles of the constitution.

[1] The Proposed Amendment would be as followed:

SECTION 1. No person who has served three terms as a Representative shall be eligible for election to the House of Representatives. For purposes of this section, the election of a person to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives shall be included as one term in determining the number of terms that such person has served as a Representative if the person fills the vacancy for more than one year. (DeMint 2011) SECTION 2. No person who has served two terms as a Senator shall be eligible for election or appointment to the Senate. For purposes of this section, the election or appointment of a person to fill a vacancy in the Senate shall be included as one term in determining the number of terms that such person has served as a Senator if the person fills the vacancy for more than three years. (DeMint 2011) This turn in political culture has inspired the creation of the Twenty-eight Amendment to the Constitution, which is necessary to reinstitute traditional and effective democracy that is the principle foundation of this nation.

Further, we will discuss the proposed amendment’s ratification process, the necessity of a term limit amendment rather than simple campaign finance reform, and finally the aggregate of political benefits that the American people would receive if this proposed amendment is successful. Due to the fact that this proposal deals with changing how the government functions it must be dealt with a constitutional amendment and not just a bill, this proposal would shift the way government operates for the benefit of democracy and the American people. For an amendment to be ratified it must pass through a rigorous proposition process. The first process entails, a two-thirds approval vote from both the House or the senate and the ratification of the proposal requires a three-fourths vote.

The second is based on the two-thirds approval of the state legislators that lead to a congressional convention. The former procedure is how 26 of 27 amendments in the constitution have been ratified barring the 21st amendment that ended prohibition and this is the more likely of the two. The idea for term limits has been on the floor of the house and senate twice in the last two decades arising from similar situations. Both of these movements arose after a crucial and majority democrat to republican shift in congress during mid-term elections. The first was in the 1994 election during the Clinton administration where 54 new congressmen and 9 new senators were elected for the GOP. In 2010 the republicans managed to overturn a record 63 new house seats and 6 senate seats in these two instances freshmen congressmen and senators pledge to self-implement term limits to avoid making the same mistake their long serving incumbent opponents and over staying their welcome.

In both of these instances it took a massive upheaval of voters to take down a highly ineffective congress, and though the legislative branch is institutionally supposed to be complicated it should not be beacon of public disapproval in the last 5 years has been below 20%. The way modern congress operates those who seek constant re-election and become career politicians stay in power longer thus the spirit of re-enacting the term limit movement is gone and the means of searching a proposal for this issue becomes a lost cause. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is the most recent advocate however his attempt was also futile luckily there is an alternative vehicle for change. [1,2,4] The latter more alternative method of proposing an amendment is though having a consensus of a two-thirds of the State legislatures approval to call on a Constitutional Convention is of a more special interest when it come to term limits as state legislators demonstrate uphold there own term limits unlike the legislators in Washington.

As it is necessary for 34 of the state legislators it is important to point out that 15 states have term limits for their legislators, as well as 8 of the 10 largest cities in America have term limits for their mayors, and 37 states have some sort of term limits for their respective governors. Term limits are supported at a state level but are not supported at a national congressional level because there is more financial incentive to stay in Washington, because of this and an desire to keep the electoral pool fresh and productive states filed suit to establish there own term limits in the 1995 Supreme Court Case US Term Limits v. Thornton where the Arkansas Legislator passed its 73 amendment that created term limits for its state House and Senate members as its representatives in the US congress, former congressman Ray Thornton argued that it was unconstitutional, and in a 5-4 vote the court sided with him.

The Court established that states could not change the US Constitution by proposing term limits for their representatives, and that the only means for such change must have to be a constitutional amendment. The issue here is not the popularity of this proposition as the majority of American favor term limits, it is the difficulty of the state legislators to unite as well as the logistical precedent created by US Term Limits V. Thornton case in conjunction with a disconnect with congress and the self serving nature of today’s representatives. [2,3,4] The issues at hand regarding term limits relate to mainly the detachment from average Americans and exponentially lucrative position as members of congress and as political theory has proven that with unregulated power comes corruption and inefficiency.

The necessity comes from the new phenomena that are exclusive to the United States Congress, which are the idea of career politicians and no longer citizen representatives. This new political-class is very privileged financially as the average congressmen is worth approximately 5.9 million dollars and the average senator is approx. 13.2 million, while the average 60 year old American (the average age of both congressmen and senators) is about 150,000 dollars clearly there is a gap between the representatives and their constituents.

The truth lies in that the marriage between special interests and big business and Capitol Hill provides congressional representatives with many lucrative opportunities given that they use their power to ensure the interest of those funding them. The intersections between the two is explicit that many representatives leave their congressional jobs for one in the private sector working with the private interests they supported, sometimes even before their term is done. Campaign finance reform is not the means to this end, because incumbents do not support bills that would impede their reelection. The answer is not to limit the benefits of incumbents because the price of tenure is too precious to consider risking, that is why political immortality must be taken out of the equation all together. [1,3,4] In today’s political arena there are very few ways to limit the monetary advantage that any incumbent will receive the main focal point in today’s campaign reform bills are on the amount congressional candidates can spend, but these spending caps also apply to the challenger despite the head start the incumbents receive anyway.

In 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo the SPCOTUS declared spending caps unconstitutional and that unlimited political contributions and spending are protected by the first amendment, now spending limits are deemed voluntary. These voluntary limits are easily broken and the penalties are some sort of a punitive taxation of campaign funds, ironically most of the challengers feel the burden of the campaign spending limits as they must raise more money to level the playing field with the incumbent candidate. The amount of money spent in congressional campaigns are also increasingly becoming more expensive because both candidates know the value of the prize, the congressional seat is a gateway to a life on abundant financial growth. In an aggregate of campaign spending candidates spent 678 million dollars in 1992 twenty years later that number has risen to approximately 3.7 billion dollars.

The system has mutated into an industry for profit and the American people are the ones who suffer as their representatives have become less involved with their constituents. Incumbents now result to “earmarks” on legislation to provide some sort of service for the constituents, and longer serving officers use more “earmarks” which is a factor in the out of control spending in Washington. Congressmen resort to these quick-fix solutions to gain traction before an election; these tactics hurt the nation and prolong this defected process. This is to be expected, however; one can hardly expect a legislature to pass a law that targets its own privileges for destruction. Real reform measures almost certainly will have to emerge from outside the Beltway and real change will emerge when more state follow the example of the 15 states legislators who already respect term limits. Aside from the benefits of breaking the financial cohesion of congress and special interest groups, term limits will provide better and more democratic lawmakers. [3,5,6]

In regards to policy, first of all, Term limits down plays seniority and favors a meritocracy because unlimited tenure calls for a seniority system it allows long serving representatives the right to serve important committees and chairmanships increasing their legislative power and recognition. Some of these legislators can hold the office so long that they have to large of an advantage to any challenger and without the threat of removal become more self-serving. Secondly, term limits will ensue a culture of meritocracy and will reward short serving representative that have demonstrated initiative and proved to be adequate lawmakers. Thirdly, term limits will increase competition the lack of a seniority system will also increase incentive for talented citizens to run for office as they will be able to take on important issues as they no longer have to “wait it out” in hope of being place in an important committee.

If every one is on a level playing field merit will again be the deciding factor, this will increase the effectiveness of congress and also gather better re-reelection will be more competitive and with competition comes better products. There are congressmen that have reached past four decades representing their district, and are into their late 70’s that have established themselves financially and keep representing their district in the same monotonous manner for many years, and this stagnates the entire constitutional process and makes public service about something other than serving the people. Bill Young (R-FL) has been in office for 41 years and counting and at 81 years old has been the embodiment of a broken system, a man who is only worthy of the seat because of financial leverage and senior advantage this does not reflect the vision of the founders.

In Federalist Papers 52 and Federalist Papers 62 the appropriate electoral process of senators and representatives are discussed at length and term limits are excluded, but the vision of a term limit system is not as the founders sought to create a nation’s of citizen representatives and not career politicians, they envisioned a collective group of talented and diverse individualism who would seek a seat due to the passion for service and not because the extra-governmental benefits. [2,7] Politics in the United States seemed to be broken in the 1910’s till presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson enacted progressive reforms that change the political culture.

These changes allowed for a more democratic process that challenged the original foundation but still lived up the most important principles which is to achieve a more perfect, and more democratic union. Term limits will bring back the emphasis on policy and take away form the monetary convolution and partisan polarization in congress as representatives will be more geared on being more effective since they are no longer politically immortal. America is known making sharp decisions when our country requires and the ratification of the proposed 28th Amendment is a strong turn in the right direction.

Works Cited

1. Coleman, Goldstien. 1.Understanding American Politics and Government. Brief. 2010. 2. . “2010 Mid-Term Election.” Congressional Report. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr 2012. <www.congress.gov>. 3. “Term Limits For Congress.” 1998. N.p., Web. 30 Apr. 2012. 4. “Jim DeMints Views on Term Limits.” Charlston Charleston Tea Party. n. page. Print. <http://charlestonteaparty.org/senator-jim-demint’s-views-on-term-limits/>. 5. “New Republicans catch term-limit fever.” POLITICO

6. “Congress Age Distribution and Net Worth.” Wall Street Journal. n. page. Print. <http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-CONGRESS_AGES_1009.


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