17 Key Pros and Cons of Term Limits for Congress

If there were term limits in place for Congress, then it would be challenging to overstate the extent at which this action would change the legislative body. Most Americans support the idea of limiting the number of years that Senators and Representatives could serve in Washington, D.C. The people who are primarily opposed to this concept are the incumbents and the various groups which depend on their presence in the government to support specific causes.

The presence of term limits for Congress would help to reduce many of the serious political issues that we experience in the United States right now. It would act to counterbalance many of the advantages that occur because of incumbency which apply only to the politicians, possibly improve the quality of representation for each state and district, while reducing the number of incentives that occur due to wasteful policies and spending.

Term limits would also change the structure of experience that we have in Congress. Having a career politician who knows how to form relationships across the aisle, work with foreign governments, and limit waste is just as useful as getting officials out of office when they encourage bad habits.

There are several pros and cons to consider when establishing term limits for Congress. These are the key points to review.

List of the Pros of Term Limits for Congress

1. Term limits could encourage politicians to have courage.
One of the primary reasons why legislation happens at a snail’s pace in the United States is because most elected officials start concerning themselves about their next election once they start in office. President Trump began his re-election campaign the moment after his inauguration in 2016, and similar examples of behavior exist all the way down the ladder in Washington. If our Representatives and Senators know that they can make a meaningful change

2. It would limit the potential for corruption in the government.
Politicians have less time to get “dirty” when there are term limits in place. Although someone could be elected while under the influence of special interests, most would start from the very beginning, not knowing how to influence the governing body for their personal gain. Most newly elected officials are skeptical of lobbying groups and undue pressure for specific legislation, which would give American society an extra level of resilience against unwanted rules and regulations.

“As a lobbyist, I was completely against term limits, and a I know a lot of people are against term limits, and I was one of the leaders, because why?” asked Jack Abramoff. “As a lobbyist, once you buy a Congressional office, you don’t have to re-buy that office in six years, right?”

3. Everyone could have influence in the government.
Congress currently functions more like a union than they do a legislative body when handing out specific assignments. It works on a system of seniority that benefits the leadership group with powerful posts, leaving the rest of the newly elected officials to scramble for positions on desired committees instead. That structure encourages specific districts or states to keep voting the same person into office because their power equates to local economic influences. By instituting term limits on Senators and Representatives, we would have these politicians spending less time trying to get their foot in the door, allowing them to govern like they were elected to do by their state or district.

4. Term limits could limit the influence of corporate lobbying.
Anyone can lobby the government at any time. If you are dissatisfied with the way that your elected officials are behaving, then you can write a letter to them which conveys your feelings. The problem with our current system of lobbying is that the people and businesses which have the most money get to have the highest levels of influence in the government.

When lobbying actions take place, then there is a specific goal to that behavior. The effort is to create an outcome which is favorable to the business or the individual that wouldn’t be available to them otherwise. It is not unusual for these requests to be contrary to what the rest of the American people want, which is why their influence can be so harmful. Term limits could help to stop this behavior.

5. It would stop the various political games that people play.
Congress passes a lot of bills that include stipulations for various actions, activities, or funding requests that have nothing to do with what the actual legislation is supposed to cover. The Credit CARD (Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure) Act of 2009 is one of many examples of this issue. The legislation implemented new rules that govern credit card companies which sought to reduce fraud, seek help with mortgages, and improve the clarity of information given to consumers.

This legislation also contained an unrelated provision which allows visitors to national parks and wildlife refuges to carry loaded weapons if they are otherwise allowed to possess a firearm. By implementing term limits on Congress, the goal would be to stop these bills that aren’t “clean” by encouraging ethical behavior.

6. Having term limits in place could encourage people to vote more often.
When you live in a district where you know what the outcome of a vote will be before you cast a ballot, then any opposition is largely symbolic. Although there are local elections where voters can have influence on both sides of the aisle, that is not always the case for Congressional elections. Fewer seats are up-for-grabs each year than ever before according to data gathered by Rasmussen Reports. People are moving toward communities where there are like-minded people as their neighbors, which helps to polarize the national election map. Term limits would create circumstances where voting would be necessary because you wouldn’t know the status of the election.

7. Term limits could help to bring new ideas into Congress.
The relationship dynamic between Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a prime example as to why the inclusion of term limits would be a great idea for the United States. You have a young person with big ideas trying to take on the establish old guard who wants to have the structure of the legislative body to follow a specific course of action.

Even though it can make us feel uncomfortable at times, the harshest critics of the United States are often the best arguments for our government system. We need fresh ideas to reach Congress every so often to ensure that we aren’t being blinded by our comfort. Term limits would help to make that happen.

8. It changes the perspective of what it means to be a politician.
There are elected officials in our country who have served in Congress for over 50 years. Names like John Dingell and Robert Byrd fill the halls of this legislative body because they made a career out of being an elected official. Carl Hayden, Daniel Inouye, Jamie Whitten, John Conyers, and Carl Vinson all had uninterrupted tenures of more than 50 years as well. What is even more notable about this list is that with the exception of Strom Thurmond, Joseph Cannon, and Thad Cochran, the top 20 longest-serving politicians in the history of the United States were all Democrats.

By implementing term limits, we would change the idea of what it means to be a politician. Instead of turning this work into a career of its own, the service would become more like it was intended to be under the original Articles of Confederation – an act of civic duty.

9. This structure could help to bring centrism back to the government.
Term limits would naturally shift politicians on both sides of the aisle toward a perspective that is closer to centrism than extremism. Ever since the 2016 election, the rhetoric, insults, and lack of productivity on all sides has seen a dramatic increase. People are less civil toward each other because of what they see in Washington. When there are restrictions on the length of time that people can serve, then it encourages elected officials to ignore the extremism that happens in all parties.

“Too many in Washington display a ruling class mentality,” said Ron DeSantis, “and Congressional term limits would go a long way towards restoring the citizen-legislator ethos of the Founding Fathers.”

List of the Cons of Term Limits for Congress

1. Term limits would force good politicians to retire from Congress.
Every job goes through a specific learning curve. Even with an entry-level position, the general rule which applies to a new employee is that it takes six months to get to know a job, and then another six months to become good at it. Politicians need time to learn how Congress operates from a legislative standpoint, feeling out the relationships, committees, caucusing, and office management requirements as they go along. With term limits, they could be forced to go elsewhere just as they’re getting going on what they can do.

Even though we elect politicians, this is a job which requires skill. We don’t ask doctors, lawyers, welders, or marketers to seek a different career once a specific deadline passes. Elections are already a way to remove an unwanted politician from office.

2. It would change how politicians approach Washington.
If there were term limits in Congress, then politicians would work faster to pass their agenda because they know that they’re on a deadline. Although this might increase the speed of legislation and reduce gridlock, it would also lead to a lot of rushed bills that would create unintended consequences.

We’ve already seen in 2019 what happened with the rushed GOP tax bill, sometimes tripling the amount of taxes that children under the age of 18 must pay if one of their parents was killed in the line of duty. Now imagine that level of error applying to every pill.

3. There could be politicians who decide they don’t care.
When there are term limits in place for Congress, then there is the potential for an unmotivated politician to fill that office on their final term. Because they are being forced out of their position due to this legislation, there is little motivation for them to be an authentic representative of their state or district. People in this state of mind could decide to ignore what their communities want to follow their own agenda instead.

That’s not to say that every politician would follow this route. It does increase the chances that something like this could happen. Lobbyists would likely target those in their last session with significant sums to get specific legislation passed as well.

4. We would lose the networking benefits of our elected officials.
Every employee develops a personal and professional network as they grow into their job and a politician is no exception to this rule. We all get to benefit from their experience because they can connect through back channels to help speed along critical legislation at the right time. If we have new people coming into every session of Congress that must start from scratch, then it lessens the little bit of efficiency that is already present in the House and the Senate. Without these established networks, the political gridlock we already see today could get a lot worse.

5. It takes power away from the voters.
Term limits would dictate to the voters who they can choose to put into office. A fundamental principle of the U.S. governing system is that it is each state and district who gets to choose who their representative happens to be in Washington. When voter choices receive restriction at the ballot box by barring a candidate from being on the ballot, then it could be an action that goes against what the majority wants. Establishing term congressional term limits might help to rotate some fresh faces through this legislative body, but it might be accomplished under protest.

6. Term limits would not stop the deference behavior in Congress.
Even if term limits on Congress were to receive implementation tomorrow, the freshmen members of each elected class would still likely defer to the more experienced lawmakers when composing legislation, passing laws, or learning how things operate. Even if there are only 1-2 terms of service under the belt of someone else, that is more experience than a freshman representative would have. This deference would still consolidate the power in those who have the most experience in making laws, but it would be less experience than we have now since we’d be forcing career politicians out of office.

We would have a new, less-experienced establishment still running things, which could create many policymaking problems in the future. It is almost always the member-to-member interactions that solidify the final measures of legislation, even when staffers are primarily responsible for crafting a bill.

7. This structure would limit the incentives for gaining policy expertise.
When elected officials know that their time in Congress is limited, then there is less pressure placed on them to develop expertise on specific issues since that knowledge won’t be useful within a few years. We know this disadvantage exists because Republicans already have limits on House committee chairs, giving them six years to stay at the helm. Since they are forced to leave at a specific time, there is less urgency in place to dive deeply into the policy details which fall under their jurisdiction.

There were seven House chairs that announced their retirement during the 115th Congress. Shifting the foundation of experience at this critical level changes how we can go about the business of governing.

8. It would not shift the power dynamics in Washington.
Although term limits could work to restrain the powers of the elected official in Congress, it would not shift the dynamics of our governing structures. Each district would need to make changes to how they ran elections, which would be an expensive and time-consuming process. Reforms would put more restraints on the local government while the federal branches continue to operate, so it would be a financial cost that they average taxpayer would need to manage.

9. Term limits have zero legislative support.
There have been bills and amendments for term limits in Congress introduced in almost every session since 1943. The reality of this issue is that Americans are satisfied by seeing lip service instead of real action with this subject. Almost 3 out of 4 people support term limits, so it is up to each district to choose politicians that will support this point of view if that is what is wanted in the United States.

Conclusion of the Pros and Cons of Term Limits

Congress is consistently at or near the bottom of the polls when Americans are asked about the respect they have for the people who are in charge. The only profession which is less popular than being a Senator or Representative is being an attorney. By a substantial majority, the general population has fixed on the idea that term limits are a solution to some of the problems that we are seeing in Congress.

According to information published by The Heritage Foundation, have hearing the pros and cons of term limits during a polling session, the support for having them in place in Congress rose by three full percentage points. This issue is one of the few that doesn’t fade at the ballot box when compared to the data gathered in the polls.

There is an obvious distaste for the career politician, but this role is also needed in our government. Support for having term limits dates back as far as Eisenhower and Truman. When the Constitution received an amendment in 1951 that allows a President to only serve two terms, it created an imbalance with the rest of the government. States are already taking this step. Is it time for the federal government to do the same thing?

Author Bio
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.