In this current atmosphere of political polarization and discord, there is one issue which unites nearly all Americans, left, right and center: the need for Congressional term limits.
Hence, the Tennessee House of Representatives deserves great credit for its bipartisan vote on April 8 to press the issue. I was proud to vote yea on the legislation, alongside friend Rep. Bryan Terry of Murfreesboro. The Senate should quickly follow suit.
The fact is, Congress is dysfunctional and everyone knows it. While politicians dig in their heels and fight and re-fight decades-old partisan battles, pressing current problems are not being addressed. Instead, important social problems are used as weapons to tar opponents and excuses to steer public monies to friendly interests. Meanwhile the federal government sinks further into debt, now over $28 trillion and counting.
Many times while deliberating legislation I often think of my late father who flew 24 bombing raids over Germany during World War II. I know he and his generation would be highly upset with this nation with our national debt of $28 trillion, student college debt of $1.8 trillion and other ills plaguing our society today. What's being done about it? I don't see anything being done. Our Founding Fathers didn't expect folks to go to congress and serve 30 and 40 years.
This has to change and Tennesseans know it. According to a recent RMG Research poll, 78% of likely voters in Tennessee support term limits on Congress, including strong support among Republicans (77%), Democrats (90%), and independents (71%) alike.
Congressional term limits would change the incentives that Congress members face -- as well as literally changing the faces of U.S. Congress members. With new people come new ideas and a severing of long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with lobbyists and special interests.
Term limits would reinvigorate American democracy by encouraging regular competitive elections and giving citizens not only more opportunity to run for office but also to vote in more meaningful elections. While the status quo represents stagnation and inflexibility, term limits offer fluidity and progress.
Is positive change even possible without regular rotation in office? Our Constitution’s framers didn’t think so. But in the modern era a permanent class of big money incumbents has risen, chasing away realistic challengers and committed to fighting yesterday’s political wars.
Establishing Congressional term limits would require a constitutional amendment. This could be initiated by Congress itself, but Congress will never vote to limit its own power.
President Eisenhower pointed this out in 1954 after the Congress proposed and the states ratified the 22nd Amendment to limit the president’s term in office. “An amendment for Congressional term limits could never achieve the blessing of Congress,” Eisenhower said. “It could only be initiated by the states.”
Fortunately, as President Eisenhower noted, the states have this power. Under Article V, if two-thirds of the states apply for an amendment-writing convention on a certain subject, such a convention “must” be called. All 50 states could send delegates and hash out the details of the amendment. If three-quarters of the states ratify the product of the convention, it becomes part of the Constitution. The Congress doesn’t get a say in the matter.
That is why the April 8 House vote was so important. In calling for a Term Limits Convention, the Tennessee House took advantage of its Constitutional prerogative and duty to stand up for Tennesseans who are currently being ignored by Congress.
If the Senate follows the House’s lead by also approving HJR8, Tennessee will be the fifth state to officially make the call. The others are Florida, Alabama, Missouri and West Virginia.
It is time to press the reset button on Congress. Americans demand it and Tennessee can help lead the historic effort to achieve it.