Guest Column

Federal House and Senate Term Limits

The Founders did not picture these elected positions to be careers but rather service positions that would be shared by many of the citizens


There are a lot of people kicking around the advisability of a constitutional amendment to add term limits to the federal House and Senate. When the Founding Fathers were writing the constitution the length of terms in the House and Senate were discussed in great length. One can read the thought of those trying to get the constitution enacted in the Federalist Papers. They did not envision either of those positions as lifelong jobs. Term limits were considered but it was recognized that in some instances a representative might be very valuable, and it would not be in the interest of the country to throw them out of office. 

At the same time there might be instances of a representative that was not desirable, and it would be nice to get rid of them. Term limits would accomplish this but it would also mean the individual would not have to be accountable to the voters since they would be unable to stand for election again. In that case the individual could spend the last term acting strictly for their own personal gain rather than consideration for their constituency or country. 

The solution for this quandary chosen by the founders was to have short terms of office. Consequently, the entire House of Representatives stands for re-election every two years. The Senate was thought to need more stability and it was decided a term of every six years with the terms staggered so not all of the representatives would change at one time. Remember also that the Senate was not originally elected by the populous. 

The Founders did not picture these elected positions to be careers but rather service positions that would be shared by many of the citizens. To encourage this, rules were made about accepting gifts and the wages were set at levels to discourage making it a career. As time has passed many of the rules have been changed and wages have been increased. The idea that wages needed to be competitive with the private sector they claimed was so that government could attract talented individuals. Representatives no longer operate on some of the same rules that apply to the private sector. If there is a bill that is passed that will affect a large company (government contract or whatever) that will increase or decrease stock values, the representatives are permitted to invest in the market and reap the rewards. If you or I know something is going to influence stock prices and invest, we are arrested and charged with insider trading. Consequently, most of the representatives go into office with a great deal less money than they soon have and some become multi- millionaires after a few years. If they are thrown out each of them also receive an over generous retirement package.

It is my opinion that the Founding Fathers were right. Term limits is not the best answer to solve the problem. The people are the ones that keep voting to put these people back in office. If they are willing to keep putting these misfits back in office at every election, why would one think they would elect someone better to replace them. Our representatives should have to live by the same rules as the rest of the population. Our education system is largely responsible for the ignorance of our citizens.

Paul L. Strong lives in Bigfork.

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