Should Americans Insist On Congressional Term Limits?
We already term limit the president, so why not impose term limits for Congress?
The image of the elder statesman is prevalent in American culture. Apparently, Americans really relate to this image, because over half of Senators up for reelection today are over the age of 65. Some senators — on both sides of the aisle — are over 80 years old and running for reelection. With Senate terms being six years, Senators like Orrin Hatch, Dianne Feinstein, Bill Nelson and Bernie Sanders if reelected will be — well, really old.
According to the Washington Post, the Senate chamber is the oldest in history. Eight senators are over the age of 80, and right behind them are several who are over age 75. If reelected, Dianne Feinstein will be 92 years old at the end of her new term that begins in 2019. Yes, 92. She is the oldest U.S. senator currently serving, and she is also the longest-serving female senator. California state senator and Democrat Kevin de Leon is running against Feinstein, and has not focused on her age, but has called for a “new voice”. Feinstein has held her Senate seat since 1992. She recently canceled an Orange County campaign stop due to illness. In fairness, anyone at any age can become ill, but it is much more likely to happen in older candidates.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is 84 and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. During the Kavanaugh hearings, Senator Lindsay Graham seemed to hint that Grassley would give up that committee next term. Grassley is fairly fit; he runs four times a week, and appears to have intact mental faculties. He gets testy when asked about his age, saying that if he can run two miles a day, he can run for office. A reelection run in 2022 would put Grassley the candidate at age 89, ending his term in 2028 at the ripe old age of 95 years old. Orrin Hatch of Utah is 84; if elected today, he will have served nearly 50 years.
We already term limit the president, so why not impose term limits for Congress? It has been proposed many times, but the measure has, not surprisingly, ever been able to obtain a two-thirds majority in both houses. That’s what is required to create a constitutional amendment, and — let’s face it — the chances of Congress term-limiting itself probably won’t happen.
During his presidential campaign, President Trump vowed then, as he still does today, to propose that constitutional amendment as part of his Drain The Swamp efforts as well as his Contract with the American Voter. If anyone has a chance of making it happen, it’s Trump, who has a pretty good record at follow through.
In Trump’s proposal, members of the House would be limited to three two-year terms (six years total); Senators would be limited to two six-year terms (12 years total).
What Would Congress Look Like?
If we did have term limits that theoretically took place this election, what would Congress look like? Brace yourself— there would be roughly a 75 percent turnover in seats, because that many have served more than the proposed two or three terms. No wonder term limits have never passed!
Of course, not everyone is running for reelection today. Some are retiring. In the House, nearly 60 people are retiring. While some like Paul Ryan are decidedly younger, the average retiring house member has served 14 years (yep, that’s a whopping seven terms). Expectedly, they are all very partisan, rarely voting against their party and only sponsoring bipartisan legislation about 20 percent of the time. But their districts love them, because all won by nearly 65 percent in their last election.
Will They Concede?
Votes have been delayed because members are not there due to health issues. It is just that the media rarely talks about it. Congressmen have become very adept at brushing off questions about their health, citing they are just the poster children for an America that is definitely growing older.
To be fair, age should not be stereotyped. Some members function at very high levels. However, as a collective body, Congress is struggling because of its collective aging population. Like Grassley, all the current octogenarians hold very influential positions in Congress. No one wants to give up a chairmanship; both parties vow to hold onto them until the last dying breath — literally.
Power is seductive. It always has been and it always will. The longer a person serves in Congress, the more influence they have. It is simply too hard to walk away. During the first 100-year history of the Senate, no one over age 80 ever served. About 50 Senators in total turned age 80 in office; 15 of those birthdays have happened in the last two decades.
For many, they are simply too old to start another chapter in their lives, so they stay in office for a last hurrah.
The famous lobbyists on K Street have a lot to do with staying in office. The Washington revolving door sends staffers to K Street who then put their clients’ interests in front of the sitting senators.
How Old Is Too Old?
Some older Senators have staffers sit next to them to tell them when it is time to vote. Some Senators have been pushed by wheelchair into the chamber to vote. Some of the aide teams certainly function like a team of aides in a retirement home, although no one inside the Beltway openly talks about it.
Grubb’s Pharmacy is a Washington, D.C. establishment that fills Congressional prescriptions. Medications for some fairly serious health problems have been filled. For example, the pharmacy has been known to dole out drugs for Alzheimer’s disease. This tiny community pharmacy looks like any other, but it hand delivers prescriptions to the Congressional office of the attending physician. Owner Mike Kim realized that he was filling some “pretty serious prescriptions” for people who are running the country. It definitely made Kim sit back and take notice.
The arrangement between Grubb’s and Congress has been in place for at least 20 years. The job? Deliver drugs by the carload to Capitol Hill.
Like Kim, this whole situation should make Americans sit back and think before going to the polls. Doing the Congressional job correctly is a lot of work and requires a lot of concentration and stamina, but do some Congressmen even remember what they did yesterday? Think about it.