A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across an article talking about the 84 current members of Congress who were also serving during President Clinton’s impeachment hearings. The Clinton impeachment took place in 1998, over two decades ago, before many University of Michigan students — myself included — were born. The fact that there are over 80 members serving today who have been in Congress longer than our lifetimes is absurd. That is why we need to work to implement term limits for our members of Congress. 

Currently, there are no term limits on how long a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate can serve. This leads to many members of Congress having extremely long tenures. Proponents of term limits argue that term limits will help bring new ideas to the table, encourage people to vote and lead to less gridlock in Washington. This is all grounded in the theory that one of the main issues in Washington today is aging lawmakers who have been in Congress for decades and subsequently have a monopoly on power. 

It is not hard to see validity in this point. Incumbent lawmakers do have many advantages, such as increased name recognition and successful campaign experience. This makes it difficult for other candidates to challenge them, whether through a primary challenge or in the general election. A 2018 analysis of incumbency reelection found sitting lawmakers being reelected over 80 percent of the time in all the local, state and federal races surveyed across the United States.

Even if new members make it into Congress, much of the power lies in the hands of the leadership, who are mostly career politicians with long tenures in Congress. This can prevent new lawmakers from making an impact, which in turn may send a message to voters that their vote doesn’t matter because their representative cannot accomplish anything. Therefore, many people argue that the best way to overcome this problem is through the passage of term limits, which will lead to new blood and an influx of unique ideas. 

Opponents of term limits argue that it is crucial to gain expertise and become knowledgeable on important issues — something that can only come with experience. Therefore, opponents argue that term limits will force out effective lawmakers. This won’t be a problem, given how much of the policy and constituent work is done by the staff, not the representatives themselves. 

My opinions about term limits are influenced by the experiences I have had working in politics. This past summer, I interned for my member of Congress in his district office. While working there, I learned about an aspect of Congressional work that is often forgotten: constituent casework. Every day, the staff at the Congressman’s office would work tirelessly to help constituents on issues ranging from immigration to social security to the postal service. The people working in the office had countless years of experience and knew the laws and the processes inside and out.

It is these government workers who are in the trenches on a daily basis working to help constituents. These are people with years of experience navigating the complicated bureaucratic system. I would hope that these dedicated and crucially important employees often retain their position, even if a new member is elected. This helps to assuage fears about term limits leading to a lack of experience, because experienced staff will still be in place. 

In order to help further alleviate the concerns of detractors, we should institute term limits that are long enough to allow for representatives to have enough time to complete meaningful work without serving for multiple decades. A good limit would be six terms, or 12 years, for the House and two terms, or 12 years, for the Senate. 12 years is a reasonable amount of time for members to accomplish a sufficient amount while still allowing an influx of new ideas and the ability for diverse voices to be heard.

Many politicians on both sides of the aisle, from Republican senators to Democratic presidential candidates, have called for term limits of this exact length. Change and progress help to make us grow stronger. By putting in place reasonable term limits, we can help to transform Congress into a more fair and effective legislative body.

Isabelle Schindler can be reached at ischind@umich.edu.

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