Question: What does a Congressman do for a living? Answer: Spends the days trying to get re-elected.
A fondness for power is implanted in most men, and it is natural to abuse it when acquired. —Alexander Hamilton
President of the United States
United States Senate House of Representatives Two 4-year terms (consecutive or non -consecutive), up to 10 years total including completing up to 2 years of an unfinished term 6 year term, unlimited terms 2 year term, unlimited terms
During the forming of our government, a committee was appointed to study proposals for the new union. Thomas Jefferson wanted a term limitation, saying it was “to prevent every
danger which might arise to American Freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress.”
The Articles of Confederation omitted mandatory term limits. Soon after the Revolutionary War and victory over the British, there was a continuous turnover in Congress and a strong tendency to mistrust anyone seeking too much power. King’s were on the throne for life; Americans did not want any one person to be in power for very long. Politicians also felt the same and did not continually seek re-election. The Constitution was ratified without term limits. Many statesmen thought it was a dangerous omission. President George Washington set a standard by having to be persuaded to run for his second term and refusing to run for a third. This two term practice was followed by every President, except Franklin Delano Roosevelt who served four terms. The twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1951, limited the term of office for the President.
During the Civil War, The Confederate States Constitution limited the President to one single, six year term. They knew something we still haven’t learned, being an elected politician is not a career, it is short term service to your country. In the early 1990s, almost half the States put a Congressional Term Limit Referendum on their ballots. The referendums passed. However, in the mid 1990s, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that States cannot impose term limits on Congressmen. If re-elected, Congressmen can stay in Congress for their lifetime. The longer someone stays in office, the more relationships they build, the more favors they owe and the larger their war chest becomes. Many end up staying in office until they wish to retire or family matters take precedent.
In 2008, an estimated $5 Billion was spent by various politicians seeking election including $2 Billion spent solely on Presidential campaigns. That’s a lot of money to find employment. Along with this money come obligations for the victors. These obligations might not be in the best interest of the entire country. Favors are granted, earmarks and entitlements are entered into legislation and special interest groups are rewarded. Unless our system is changed, we run the risk of future politicians being partners to their supporters, not impartial legislatures.
Blame for campaign financing obligations is placed with lobbyists, individuals and organizations who funnel money into the political system. Shouldn’t the blame be shifted and placed on the politician who acts based on the financial donation? Americans generally intend to elect representatives who are honest and will look out for their constituent’s best interest. They don’t want a legislature composed of people voting based on a lobbyist’s best interests.
Once newly elected officials are in office, it is time for them to act. All too often they tell us about inherited problems. They dwell on how bad the prior administration was and how improvements are difficult and time consuming. The American public is tired of hearing that same old line. If the prior administration were competent, there would be no need to elect new officials. These newly elected politicians should be glad the American people were not satisfied with the prior administration. Take, for instance, the game of baseball. The last thing a manager, team or fan wants to hear from a relief pitcher is how the prior pitcher left them in a jam. With an attitude like that, the relief pitcher would soon be out of a job. The newly elected official, like the relief pitcher, needs to take ownership of the situation and immediately begin working. Let the past go and start showing progress. Americans are tired of hearing how our country got into trouble. The American people want the bleeding stopped, a plan for improvement and a promise that it won’t happen again. Only the political pundits want someone to blame. If Congressmen were not so worried about being re-elected, they would delve into solving problems with no need for scapegoats.
Many multiple term Congressmen start to feel a little too comfortable. They take advantage of their office, whether through returning favors, excess travel at our expense or nepotism in hiring. Tenure is not a good thing. “Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely” - an expression true in the 1880s, when England’s Lord Acton penned the phrase in a letter - and still true today.
If the election process was not a perpetual occurrence, more energy and time could be put to better use. While there are jobs created, purchases made and some benefit to the economy during elections, they are not long lasting jobs or productive activities that would be a permanent benefit to our economy. This money often comes with strings attached which are more self-serving then widely benefiting the population. During the election process, the American people are shortchanged by those running for re-election. Instead of concentrating on bettering the country, politicians are spending time working to get re-elected. The American people did not put them in office so they could spend time trying to keep their job. They were voted into office to do the job of running our government.
And while we are on the subject of misappropriation of time and resources, another glaring example is the “franking” privilege, allowing politicians unlimited free mailings. Although free mailing services should not be campaign related, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of election time mailing.
In the corporate world, there is a term, “barriers to entry” which refers to reasons, such as cost, technology and lack of brand recognition, prohibiting a new company from entering a market. Government is always on the watch for companies who use this to prohibit competition. At times, they have forced companies to split up or to allow other companies use of protected technology making the marketplace more competitive for the benefit of the public. The political world should be no different. Although campaign funding laws have been initiated, there is still a barrier to being a serious contender for political office. The two major political party’s control who will be nominated. A vast sum of money is needed to run for a major office. Allowing a Congressman unlimited terms in office gives him or her the ability to put together donors and collect on favors owed. Like monopolies and oligopolies in the corporate world, the current political system is not healthy for the American public. America’s two party system creates
“barriers to entry” which are seldom overcome.
One way this advantage will vanish is if the American people get incensed with politicians and their espoused rhetoric. As of 2009-2010, the American public feels that they have lost their voice in Washington. Politicians are more concerned about the upcoming elections then helping America. Saving face by passing bills is the short term goal. Reaching “across the aisle” is taking a hiatus. Business as usual has reached a new level in the Capitol. Fortunately, Americans are disappointed in both political parties. Meaningful groups have organized and their voice is being heard. Just one change, and there will be a new way to do business in Washington.
ONE SIX YEAR TERM FOR THE PRESIDENT, SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.
The member (of Congress) who is not making a career of politics looks quite differently at the world.
In 1951, term limits for the President of The United States were enacted. It’s time to enact new term limits for the President and add term limits for Senators and House of Representative members. ONE 6 YEAR TERM FOR ELECTED FEDERAL OFFICIALS. There are many good and qualified people eligible to hold office. The American people have voted in new officials. Let’s do it every six years. If the President doesn’t need to make decisions based on his or her political future, improvements would be made faster. Congressmen, who would have a single six year term limit, could spend their days advancing the lives of the American people instead of having their eyes on the next election. In all cases, our elected representatives would not be in office long enough to generate long lasting relationships with special interest groups and lobbyists. They would not have to pay back favors by casting votes to help these groups. There would be no need to add earmarks and entitlements to bills in order to gain support as many of these earmarks are to build up favors for future use. With limited terms, we also might get a better class of Congressmen, those who do not look at Congress as a career but as a means to make America a better place in the six years they serve. Since the term would be only six years, it could be too short for a Congressman to make a meaningful contribution, a decided risk, in addition to the possibility of Congress creating legislated “pork” sooner or more often. It is well worth the risk.
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