Term Limits? — What say you?

In a recent posting I wrote that one thing that has been highlighted by the pork in The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8,) is that term limits appears to be needed for the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. As you may know, these two bodies of the United States Congress has no term limits (or, as I put it in my previous postings, has no set danger limits,) and, today, in our era of incumbency, the two and six year election cycles appear to be largely rituals with no real meaning.

As the Center for Responsive Politics puts it:

Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives winning reelection. With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats…

Senate races still overwhelmingly favor the incumbent, but not by as reliable a margin as House races. Big swings in the national mood can sometimes topple long time office-holders, as happened with the Reagan revolution in 1980. Even so, years like that are an exception.

Consider these graphs, also from the Center for Responsive Politics:

United States House of Representatives, Reelection RatesUnited States Seanate, Reelection Rates

In view of the incredibly low approval rating of the United States Congress (according to a Gallup survey, the approval rating hit a new low, 10%, in August, 2012 — the lowest approval rating in Gallup-recorded history,) it is really hard to understand why incumbents appear to be able to coast through 30 years, or so, of membership.

With this low level of approval rating and its disconnect with reelection rates, the enormous amount of money that the Congress has discretionary power over, and the increasingly blatant lobbying directed towards these representatives by special interest groups, it appears that the lack of term limits is a problem.

Term Limit Failures

In the early 1990ies, following active debate across the United States, Congressional term limits were put on the ballot in 24 states, and voters in eight of these states approved the Congressional term limits by an average electoral margin of two to one. However, in May 1995, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states cannot impose term limits upon their Federal Representatives or Senators.

And, so, the popular vote was for naught.

Bill McCollum

Bill McCollum

In 1995 Mr. Bill McCollum, a Representative, brought a constitutional amendment to the United States House of Representatives, proposing the limitation of United States Senate memberships to two six-year terms and the limitation of United States House of Representatives memberships to six two-year terms.

Perhaps not surprising given that you are asking the wolf to guard the sheeps, the votes in favor of this bill, allowing for — arguably extremely generous — 12 years of service, fell far short of the required two-thirds majority votes. Three other term limit amendment bills failed as well.

The bill, H.J.RES.73, can be found at the Library of Congress, where you can also find the voting results.

And, so, the electoral vote was for naught.

Let’s try again, shall we

It is a puzzling notion. If the vast majority of the population is, indeed, for term limits, why are they not enacted. It is, after all, the people’s decision. Is it not?

To test the proposition, I have today posted a petition on We, the People, the petition page of the White House — recently made infamous due to a petition targeting Piers Morgan of CNN, which was authored by radio host Alex Jones.

To me a 12 year term seem only marginally better than life, so my petition limits United States Senators to one term (six years) and United States Representatives to three terms (six years in total.) The full and complete text of the petition is found below.

You can now participate in the great American experiment by voting for the petition by following this link. In order for the petition to become public, i.e. viewable by anyone on the White House’ home page — other than through an explicit links (http://wh.gov/yNQa) — the petition must obtain 150 votes. The next milestone is that the petition must obtain 100,000 votes in 30 days, by February 21st, 2013 (a tall order, I think,) in order for it to be reviewed by the White House Administration.

Good luck!

P.S. I am assured that there will be no nacht und nebel style rounding up of individuals who sign the petition, so feel free to contribute to the experiment. If you or your loved ones do get sent to somewhere unpleasant, I am truly sorry! For the ultra-paranoid among us, I note that signing the petition does require registration, but the information collected in the registration process is rudimentary…..
P.P.S. I urge you to not despair if the petition does not reach the two milestones. My understanding is that there is not limit on how many times a petition can be put up, and, so, if you wish, we can simply put the petition up again if it fails to meet the milestones (for that matter, you can also put the petition up if you want)

The full petition text is:

“Impose term limits on the United States Senate and the House of Representatives

This petition requests a change to the United States Constitution, imposing strict term limits on the members of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives.

Members of the United States Senate should be limited to one (1) term in office and members of the United States House of Representatives should be limited to three (3) terms in office.

The current absence of term limits combined with the mounting costs of elections has created a system that is highly and dangerously oligarchic, rigid, easily corruptible, and stiffing of progressive legislative progress. To improve the system, term limits must be established.

There is overwhelming popular support for term limits. The United States Congress needs to operate in accordance with the wishes of the people”