The President of the United States is sometimes called the leader of the free world. Yet many people believe that Congress has as much (or more) power than the president. Congress, after all, is responsible for passing the laws that shape our country. Only Congress can declare war. Congress is meant to serve as a counterweight, if need be, to the president. Neither can act without the other’s cooperation.
Since Franklin D. Roosevelt, the presidency has been wisely limited to two terms. Term limits are advantageous to everyone. It lends urgency to the political party in power and hope to the opposition. Term limits guarantee no one can remain in office indefinitely, despite the money and power at their disposal. Term limits force us out of our apathy by requiring us to pick a new leader. This safeguard is missing in Congress. The House of Representatives and the Senate have no term limits. They argue that voters can choose new representation every election cycle. If Americans want to replace their representation, they only need to vote for a new candidate. If they vote the same people into office, they must be satisfied.
This is misleading. Americans are deeply dissatisfied with and distrustful of Congress. President George W. Bush’s approval rating of 23% looks wildly popular when compared to the single digit ratings Congress routinely garners. We allow incompetent and destructive people to become fixtures in Congress, because we feel helpless against their entrenched power. When Congress gave (not loaned) the financial industry over 700 billion dollars of taxpayer money, the Americans who earned that money were wondering how to make ends meet. While Americans lie awake at night worrying about the stability of their jobs and the threat of foreclosure, Congress endorses unfair trade agreements at our expense. We feel betrayed, but raising the groundswell of support and money to get a more suitable candidate into office is often beyond the reach of ordinary people. For these reasons, the only fair and democratic solution is to impose term limits on Congress.
Over the years, the citizens of the United States have repeatedly demanded that term limits be imposed. We have pursued the traditional avenues to amend the law. The usual way to pass an amendment is through Congress. Unsurprisingly, the majority of people in these lucrative congressional jobs are unwilling to curtail their own power in the interest of the nation. The people then went to the states. In the early 1990s, a major referendum to impose congressional term limits was on the ballot in 23 states. It passed by an enormous margin with the voters. In May of 1995, however, the U.S. Supreme Court defied the will of the people and ruled that states cannot impose term limits on Congress. Finally, the citizens turned to the lawmakers themselves. Many Republicans eagerly offered to self-impose term limits, but the majority of Democrats didn’t bother with the charade. Voters gave these candidates the benefit of the doubt, and many were elected to Congress by a narrow margin. Once established in Congress, most of these candidates, such as Tim Johnson (R-IL) and Paul Wellstone (D-MI) unblinkingly went back on their promises and sought reelection.
The traditional means of preserving the integrity of Congress have been exhausted. Yet in the interest of the people and of our country, we must insist on congressional term limits. Grassroots groups like termlimits.org have sprung up in response to the public outcry. The recent election of Barack Obama illustrates the power a grassroots organization can have when the people passionately support the cause. While I support these measures, I propose we go another step forward, and put the sitting Congress on notice. Until term limits are imposed by law, we will vote against every incumbent. No one should serve more than one term until we find a Congress that is honorable enough to return power to the people. Our nation deserves to be ruled by its citizens, not career politicians.Powered by Sidelines