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Should We Set Term Limits for Congress?

Through his travels and reading, Chris gathers information and writes about historical events and concepts that are often overlooked.

Trump calls for term limits for congress.

Trump calls for term limits for congress.

How Long Can a Senator or Congressperson Serve?

President Elect, Donald Trump has reintroduced the subject of term limits for congress. It's simply a way of telling longtime members of the House and Senate that it's time for them to go home. It’s an old debate that goes back to the ratifying of the constitution in 1787. Some felt that it was only a matter of time before congressional members would secure lifetime tenures by means of bribery. They felt that a regular rotation of new members in and old ones out was necessary for a healthy government.

Since the signing of the constitution on March 4, 1789, there have been 12,178 individuals who have served, or are serving, in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Let’s consider the top 104 individuals in terms of the number of years they were or have been in the U.S. Congress.

Longest-Serving 104 U.S. Congressmen

  • Average number of years in office: 40
  • Median years in office: 39
  • Mode: 36
  • The top ten have served a combined total of 524 years in congress
  • Total years of all 104 in office: 4,152
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Many Competent People Seek Nominations

Is there a shortage of people who desire to hold the highest offices in the country? It would seem not, if we use the 2016 presidential primaries as an example. The Democratic party fielded six people seeking their party’s nomination. The Republican party mustered twenty-two who filed with the Federal Election Commission.

There does not seem to be a shortage of people who want to serve in these political positions. Yet we routinely send the vast majority away and grant power to the same few, over and over again, by re-electing them to office.

There are many reasons given for not limiting congressional terms, but I want to focus on just one of these reasons. It is said that term limits will leave congress with a lot of inexperienced people holding the reins of power and no one to show them the way things are done in Washington. In other words, senior members become mentors for the freshmen members.

"Mentoring" the Freshmen in Congress

The reference to freshmen and seniors brings to mind my college days. Upperclassmen and faculty had grown used to the routine of college life. They represented the rules, guidelines and traditions of campus living. Then came the dreaded freshmen. They were loud, obnoxious and rebellious. They bucked the system and questioned constantly with the word, why? They also brought new life, new energy and new ideas. But these same rebels became part of the establishment as they entered their junior and senior years. The fire was gone, and a new wave of freshmen came in to shake up the old guard.

It doesn’t take long for the freshmen in congress to be “mentored” by senior members. I’m an outsider to that world, but it seems that the mentoring process of new congressional members is more like breaking the spirit of a wild horse. They are put in their places, told when and how to vote on items before committees and in full sessions. Priorities are dictated and new ideas are scuttled.

When It's Time to Go Home

My late wife and I lived on a quiet street in a beautiful northern Michigan town with our two sons. That was about twenty-six years ago. We had a friend named Steve who spent a lot of time at our house. He was a great guy and was always welcome to visit. More often than not, Steve would stay later than he, or we, had expected. On those nights, my wife would disappear into the upstairs and return with a blanket and pillow. Steve would sleep on the couch and leave early the next morning. But there were also evenings when my wife and I wanted to be alone. It was simply time for Steve to go home. I would politely tell him so, and he would take it without offense, and leave.

Breaking up the Clandestine Bases of Power

What would happen if there were a whole lot more freshmen congressmen than ever and far fewer seniors to show them the ropes? What if new ideas, new priorities and new ways of doing things were not beaten out of these novices?

I am not an adherent to the conspiracy theory about the Illuminati, but I also am not naive regarding the pressure placed on our elected officials by those outside government. I have no doubt that deals are made and strong relationships are built between powerful individuals inside and outside of government.

What impact would term limits have on these power bases? Could it break them up, weaken them, render them ineffective? If so, then term limits could be a reasonable tool to use as a means of returning the power to the people — to us.

Those who are against term limits speak of a government that is less competent, less cooperative, more corruptible, and prey for self-interested lobbyists. But such descriptions are made by those who want to protect the old way, who want submission, not cooperation. What is more corrupt than established power that beats down and overwhelms challengers? And what of self interested lobbyists? They can be dealt with easily. Outlaw them.

Some of the 42 bronze figures of the signers of the U.S. Constitution, at the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA

Some of the 42 bronze figures of the signers of the U.S. Constitution, at the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA

Government Of, By, and For the People

Government of the people, by the people and for the people would be more likely if and when the centers of clandestine power in Washington were broken up. That day will not come as long as such great power is held by so few over so many decades.

Earlier in this article I mentioned the signing of the Constitution on 4 March 1789. Of those men who signed that historic document, how many were rebels? How many had new, fresh ideas? How many were freshmen? All of them. Let’s get back to our roots and try it again. Through term limits, let’s eliminate the elite and give the power back to the people.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on November 07, 2016:

Chris, I agree with you 100%. Money talks, and big money speaks louder. As a legal editor, I certainly don't want big money making my job impossible.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on November 06, 2016:

I agree wholeheartedly, cam8510. Term limits should also be implemented in my country where senior members tend to fall into traps set by Greed.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 02, 2016:

Mizbejabbers, I am not about to argue a point with someone who clearly knows what they are talking about. I appreciate the detail of your comment and am glad to have it here in comments of my hub for others to read. One part of your comment that struck me once again is the role of special interests. These people have a right to have access to congressmen, but it is out of balance with the access of the average person. And the fact that they can write the legislation and keep anyone from even making grammatical corrections is a problem to me. The legislators should draft the legislation, not special interests. They can have their say, but they shouldn't be writing the final draft. How do you feel about this? Once again, I say kick the lobby out. Let them write their congressmen like the rest of us do. And we must get campaign finance reform. The lobby and the money from special interests is ruining government.

I appreciate knowing more about how this works. Thanks for helping me gain a better understanding of the ins and outs of government.

Mizbejabbers on November 02, 2016:

Chris, let me make one point concerning the writing of the law and lawyers. Since I attend conferences and have knowledge as to how the law works in most states, I can do a short description of how it works. States have bill drafters to help the legislators with the wording of the law, and I believe that Congress does, too. We also have editors, some are lawyers and some like me, are grammarians and researchers who smooth out what the lawyer bill drafters write for the legislatures. We do our best to put forth a quality product that goes into the law books.

What the role of lawyers in the legislature (not the drafter-lawyer or editor-lawyer) plays is to help keep the heads of the good ole country boys, if you will, from taking off to la la land. Sometimes, and we've seen a lot of it lately, is that these good ole boys get a lot of special interest laws that don't benefit the good of the people as a whole drafted by non-lawyers from outside. Then when they come to us (drafters and editors) to try to put them into a form that can be understood, the sponsors won't let us touch them, We have duplications, bad grammar, poorly written sentences, and some even try to keep us from putting them into publication form. I know that this is a little off topic, and maybe I should have explained it to you in a private email, but to an outsider, we are just being unreasonable and touchy.

I think term limits are a good thing for the President, and maybe if we could get some good quality people to run for Congress, they would be a good thing there, too. However, it takes money to finance good people and to make good people want to leave good jobs in the private sector. Many of the people who are grumbling about the salaries and perks of Congressmen are the very same ones who want to limit the financing of good men and women. Just a thought.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 29, 2016:

Oztinato, no doubt about that. We have had plenty of time and information. We created the scenario of a choice between two undesirables. The outcome will be of our own doing, for good or bad.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on October 29, 2016:

It doesn't matter if Donald wins. Hitler won power and people paid the price then hitler "lost power" the hard way. History repeats. People get what they deserve.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 29, 2016:

Oztinato, Thanks for reading and for your response. Who can take him seriously? Not sure, but millions will vote for him with a clothes pin on their nose. Polls show as high as 20 percent unsure regarding how they will vote. Voting history of states barely counts because Hillary has one foot in prison and one in the White House and because Donald doesn't follow the same play book as everybody else. A few polls show them even or Trump with a slight lead. Most show Clinton ahead a little to a lot. Unpredictable.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 29, 2016:

Mel, Exactly. Enacting term limits and then working our way through the subsequent issues and problems created by that move will provide us with a uniquely American solution. Thanks for reading a and for your comment.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on October 28, 2016:

Donald is a nut. Whatever he says has to be taken not with a grain of salt but with a BAG of salt!! Really who can take Donald seriously.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on October 28, 2016:

Despite the source, I am all about term limits. We don't want "competent" senior Congressmen showing the newbies "the way." "The Way" is what screwed us over in the first place. Great hub.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 28, 2016:

MizBejabbers, wow, you've got some excellent points. I want to comment on a few of them, but I appreciate the thought you put into your comments and I respect the knowledge you have gained by your attention and participation in these matters.

You said you have not seen term limits work very well. It doesn't have to be perfect. It simply needs to solve worse problems than it creates. We can deal with the negative results. In fact, the process of solving the problems will give us a stronger government.

So the newbies came in and went wild sponsoring/cosponsoring frivolous legislation and making minuscule changes to existing laws and making a big deal about it back home. One question that raises in my mind is this. Where was the media during those times? It is their job to report and expose these kinds of abuses of power and this kind of silliness and laziness. I have to believe that if the media had done its job and exposed these things, voters would not have been happy. But that sounds like a growing pain to me. It is something that would pass with time as the novelty of simultaneously being the new kid on the block and the man in charge wore off.

Lawyers.....They have their place in society. With their knowledge of law, they guide people to do business within the law. Smart and wise men and women can produce good laws even if they are not lawyers. The lawyers place is to help in the wording of laws. They are not necessary for the development of laws. I don't mean to disrespect lawyers. They have great insight and they can keep legislators from making serious mistakes. They can save time by making sure laws are written correctly the first time. But they can fulfill that role as consultants. We need to get back to the place where common man serves common man from these offices of government. I am afraid we have created in government a specialty for lawyers. Doctors have specialties such as pediatrics and orthopedics. We have made congressional seats a specialty for lawyers. That is a mistake. This is to be a government OF the PEOPLE, not of elite specialists.

If we somehow find a way to place term limits on US congressmen, there will be problems. But what we have now, career politicians, is not and never has worked well. I might even be interested in a part time legislature which pays a stipend and no more. If men and women really have a passion to serve, they can do it in a much shorter amount of time than we currently do and they can also go home and work for a living.

Thank you for your thoughtful participation in the subject of my hub. I appreciate your input.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 28, 2016:

Ruby, thanks for your comment. Regarding the Supreme Court. Of course, as you know, they are appointed to lifetime terms, not elected. There is value in the wisdom they gain and the consistency that emerges from such a system. But you are right. There are problems. The court can not write legislation, but they do that very thing. The court can't appoint a president, but they did that too. They are to interpret and apply the law as written. That is all. The court needs to be reeled in and the guidelines reemphasized and enforced. I am sure there is a way of overturning a SC decision. It may lie in the hands of congress. The court should, under normal circumstances, have the last word. But if the decision is itself unconstitutional, there needs to be a way of dealing with it. But I do not think term limiting the SC is the way to go.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 28, 2016:

Ralph, You have excellent points.

1. Loss of expertise

2. Lobbyists and legislation

First, these men and women need to know Washington before the ever get elected. If they want the job, they need to be qualified. If I am hired to do a job in my field, I'd better know what I am doing. Yes, expertise comes with time and there would be a limit to the expertise one could achieve under term limits. It's a tradeoff. Expertise doesn't only apply to being a good legislator. It also applies to being a good deal maker, not just across the aisle, but outside where the lobbyists lurk. Lobbyists gain their power in two ways. First by striking deals with the elite. Second by swindling the newcomers. Which leads to my second point.

The lobbyists have to go. The public must have access to government, but lobbying as we know it today has gone beyond that. It is not the common man's way of accessing government. Lobbying is Big Everything manipulating government. It has to go. Lobbyists can write their legislators just like the rest of us. If I don't have the access to congress that the lobbyists have, then they shouldn't have it either. Either that or give me the same access. But I don't have the money or power of the lobbies, so I'd never get in.

I know I'm being simplistic, i.e. term limits and ending the lobby. But the new starting point could lead to better ways if we planned for them. Both of these points would create new problems. But solving problems would make the system stronger. If we had term limits, there would be years of problem solving to make it work right. But that is better than what we have now. Ending the lobby would limit the public's access to their own government, and that would have to be remedied with a better way.

I appreciate your comments and invite you to comment again.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 28, 2016:

Eric, I fully agree with your final statement of "No easy solutions." Term limits is a complicated solution, but I'll stand by my commitment to it. I appreciate your input here.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on October 28, 2016:

Chris, this is a good article with some good reasoning, but the problem is, when put to the test I have not seen it work very well. I agree with Ralph Deeds. I'm not speaking hypothetically now, but from nearly 30 years experience in my state. When I first took the job I now hold, we had a basically respectable state legislature, but we did have a shakeup that sent a couple of oldtimers to prison and some others got voted out because of some unethical activity. Then probably as a result of that shakeup, term limits were voted in. It takes about 10 years to term limit them all out.

In about 1999, we saw those results as the number of bills introduced and acts passed skyrocketed because these newcomers wanted to be able to go home and brag about the laws they got passed. Some were ridiculous in that maybe they just changed a couple of words with a synonym like "prior to" changing to "before" but the sponsor could still brag about his bill. Some were actually bad law like merging two giant agencies into one mega-agency, and undoing that law two years later.

Lawyers stopped running for office. You may think that is a good thing, but lawyers at least function in state government by keeping heads level. As a result, the number of laws ruled unconstitutional went up. Another result was that when a member was term limited out, his or her spouse was elected to the seat, so that person was still in by proxy.

These are only a few examples of the cons of term limits, but I can see where it has been a valuable tool in the office of the POTUS except that we still see dynasties such as the Adamses, Harrisons, Roosevelts, Bushes and maybe the Clintons. However, we did say "nix" to more Bushes in this last election. My state has some deep-seated do-nothing congressmen who keep being re-elected simply because of party loyalty, so if we keep it up, I might be willing to support term limits on the federal level.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on October 28, 2016:

Although I would never in a million years vote for Donald Trump, I like his idea of term limits, not only for the senate and congress, the supreme court needs overhauling the most. They are a powerful group that rules our country. I liked this hub. It gives ' We The People ' a chance to voice our opinion.

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on October 28, 2016:

Term limits are an idea that sounds good, but which would deny our country of the expertise that many in Congress develop over time, and it would play into the hands of lobbyists who already have too great a role in writing legislation. My state, Michigan, has term limits with the result that much of the laws are written by special interest lobbyists.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 28, 2016:


I just can't figure where we went around the bend on this issue. Maybe one of those concepts that was just taken for granted and therefor not appropriately provided for.

This may be where the rubber hits the road. I was guilty of it in the past but no more. Voting in the state becomes an issue of how much power your state will have in a federal legislature. Vote an old time power broker in to maintain the states interest or vote in a freshman and lose all that power.

No easy solutions here -- except term limits.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 28, 2016:

John, I'm sure some of these men did admirable things during long terms, but it does nothing for keeping government fresh and new ideas flowing. And too many deals can be made by old friends outside of government. I'm glad the article was helpful.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 28, 2016:

peoplepower73, I agree, it would take tremendous pressure from the electorate and even then it may fail. When our government has be hijacked like this, the people are forced to take action. Someday it will happen, I am sure. In the meantime, if we can elect likeminded people, maybe we have a chance.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 28, 2016:

Hi, Chris. As an outsider I really have no idea how your political process, and especially your Congress works. I am flabbergasted that those men you mention have been serving in Congress for over 50 years. Here in Australia we don't have a congress, just a Senate, and all seats in the Senate go to the election every four years at the same time as the Upper House Federal elections. Sometimes a sitting senator is re-elected if they are lucky but I doubt we have anyone who has been there more than 10 years. I found this very interesting and an eye opener.

Mike Russo from Placentia California on October 27, 2016:

Chris: Nice article and very well written. I think it is a great idea, but the problem is the people who would have to pass a bill are the same people who would be eliminated by by their own bill.

I believe congress has been bought out by big corporation, big moneyed interests, and lobbyists. They do not represent the needs of the people and they are constantly in campaign cycles raising more money so that they can get re-elected.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 27, 2016:

Shyron, We need them, yes. Will we get them? It is a tough, uphill battle against those in power. They will not relinquish it without a fight. Thanks for visiting and reading.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 27, 2016:

John, thanks for reading this hub and for your excellent input. No doubt, Congress will not legislate themselves out of their corrupt business. I am not a fan of DT, but this one item, term limits, is appealing. But even if a sitting president backed such a thing, he can't introduce legislation. Only the people we want to get rid of can do that. Sadly, I have to agree with your assessment. They will not derail the gravy train. A new party would have to act quickly, though. It doesn't take long for people to be infected with the power bug.

Thanks for visiting my hub.

John D Wilson from Earth on October 27, 2016:


Nice hub, makes a lot of sense.

In doing research - for an understanding of what the heck happened in America and for hubs - I've come to understand a few things about our government.

1) Those in government want power, control and money. Not necessarily in that order. It used to be that Senators were picked by state legislators. If they did not follow the states desires, they could be called home and fired. That changed with the 17th amendment to the Constitution (They had come to realize that no one could garner power with the type of system that was in place. If they could get "elected", then they had control of who each party would nominate) I view government and employees of government as evil. Elected officials are the most evil. Hence, I think the worst of any schemes/plans that government touts as "good" for me. Usually the worst is closer to the truth than what the lies politicians have stated. Thus, I think the 17th amendment was another scam.

2) If you look carefully at they way laws are written, it's obvious that those in Congress really don't care what's good for citizens or for America. What they care about is power, money, control and not getting convicted of criminal acts. Just look at the recent shenanigan's with Hillary Killary's emails - the Director of the DOJ has conflicts, Comey has conflicts, Obama has conflicts. None are being investigated.

3) The bailout bill - TARP- had a clause that said, paraphrasing here, "No one who was involved in the design of the TARP program could be charged with a crime." Paulson was an Ex -CEO of Goldman Sachs, who survived because of the bailout. Bernanke is now working on Wall Street. The Ex- Secretary of the Treasury is now working on Wall Street (Most who "retire" from the SEC go to work on Wall Street)

Look at how many chairman's of Congress committees leave Congress, only to go work for those that had business directly related to the Committees. It's all a scam, a con. Hillary's pay to play on a grander scale. The republicans do it and the democrats do it. Why on earth would you think they want to get off the gravy train?

Not saying your idea is wrong, but you are asking congress and the president to derail a gravy train that benefit's of most who work in government.

3) The only way to change things is to start from scratch. A party has to be formed that is paying attention to the rights of citizens and and the well being of America. There are no leaders in the GOP nor the Democrat party that care. Period!

4) They put an amendment in NDAA in 2013. (Cute name National Defense Authorization Act.) Here's the words that struck me as very odd: "The US government, without restriction, may use propaganda to control how we (citizens) perceive our world." It nullified acts that had been in place to prohibit propaganda from the government

5) The obama administration had two journalists spied on through the NSA and FBI. Doing what journalists do, they were trying to get information from two lobbyists. Because of the spying on the journalist, the two lobbyists, without committing a crime, were charged with conspiring to commit a crime. Of course this outraged journalists. Freedom of Speech is being carefully controlled.

6) Members of Congress cannot be prosecuted for anything they say on the floor. This is why they can lie about obamacare the war in Iraq and anything else they choose and walk about with impunity. This particular law is called Parliamentary immunity to laws most countries in the word. Just imagine how many Congressman would lose their jobs if they could be charged with lying and committing crimes by verbal deception. A wonderful losing 99% of them, but I don't think it will happen anytime soon.

So, it's all stacked against citizens wanting the truth about what their government is doing.

Unless we start over, America will continue it's slide to mediocrity.

Not a pleasant thing for me to say. If you dig a bit, you'll understand why the lies and corruption are so hard to stop.



Shyron E Shenko from Texas on October 27, 2016:

Chris, this is an awesome hub, I hope that can be term limits set and those that are entrenched in a life long money account for a life long career in running our Congress/Senate.

We do need term limits set.

Blessings my friend

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