Legislative Term Limits

I have seen numerous postings on social media during this election season that call for term limits for the US Congress. This usually happens when a long-tenured, ranking member of Congress makes a statement or proclaims an opinion that supporters of the “other” party don’t like. Then there is a hue and cry for term limits. Clearly, these ranking members have outlived their usefulness, according to some, and their age and longevity have diminished their critical thought processes to the point where they should be retired. Thus, Congress needs term limits. 

Let’s look at some longevity dates. The longest tenured member of the 116th US Senate is Patrick Leahy (D Vermont). Senator Leahy’s seniority date is January 3, 1975. He has been a continuous member of the US Senate for almost 46 years, or nearly 8 terms. The next longest tenured Senator is Chuck Grassley (R Iowa). Senator Grassley’s seniority date is January 3. 1981. He has been a continuous member of the US Senate for almost 40 years, or nearly 7 terms. Senator Grassley is followed by Senator Mitch McConnell (R Kentucky). Senator McConnell’s longevity date is January 3, 1981. He has been a continuous member of the US Senate for almost 36 years, or nearly 6 terms. Senator Richard Shelby (R Alabama) has been a continuous member of the US Senate for 5 ½ terms, followed by Diane Feinstein (D California) with nearly 4 ½ terms.  Don Young (R Alaska) is the longest tenured Representative with a seniority date of March 6, 1973. He has been a continuous member of the House for nearly 47 years, or 23 terms. Jim Sensenbrenner (R Wisconsin) has a seniority date of January 3, 1979. He has been a continuous member of the House for nearly 42 years, or 21 terms. Hal Rogers (R Kentucky) and Chris Smith (R New Jersey) both took their House seats on January 3, 1981. They have been continuous members of the House for nearly 40 years, or 20 terms. Nancy Pelosi (D California) is the Speaker of the House. She took her seat in the House January 3, 1987. She has been a continuous member of the House for 34 years, or 17 terms. 

A review of the 116th Congress shows there are 100 Senators and 436 Representatives. The average age of the Representatives at the beginning of the 116th Congress was 57.6 years; of the Senators, 62.9 years.  The average age of the newly elected Representatives to the 116th Congress was 47.9 years; of the Senators, 58.1 years. The average length of service for a Senator at the beginning of the 116th Congress was 10.1 years (1.7 Senate terms); for a Representative, 8.6 years (4.3 House terms). 

Some additional investigation reveals that, of the 100 US Senators,  Bob Menendez (D New Jersey) is the 25thranking member by seniority. He has served continuously since January 17, 2006. This means that he has served 2 1/3 terms in the US Senate. This further demonstrates that there are 75 members of the US Senate with less than 14 years of continuous service, or, three-quarters of the US Senate has served less than 2 1/3 terms. By contrast, the 25th ranking member of the House of Representatives is Joe Courtney (D Connecticut). He has served continuously since January 3, 2007. This means he has served for 13 years in the House of Representatives, or 6 1/2 terms. This indicates that there are 327 House members who have served less than 13 years. What this tells us is that 402 members of Congress (75 Senators and 327 House members) have less than 14 years of continuous service. 

I have to admit, the first name I recognized on the seniority list of Representatives was Peter DeFazio (D Oregon) at number seven, followed by Nancy Pelosi (D California) at number ten, then Maxine Waters (D California) at number nineteen. The Senate is a different story. I recognized nearly half of the top twenty Senators on the seniority list. This could be because the Senate is much more vocal than the House, with the exception of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A further reason could be because a House term is two years and a Senate term is six, making for a higher turnover rate for the House.

With 75% of House and Senate members having seniority of less than 14 years, the questions become these: Is there a need for term limits, and what should be the length of said limits? Those who are very vocal in support of term limits generally do not have a clear vision of what they believe should be the length of these term limits. They just want them. They have even less of a clear vision on how to impose term limits. They just want them. I had a brief exchange with a friend on how he proposed to enact term limits. His response was to start with electing legislators who support term limits. Think about this, each state has two US Senators, each with a six-year term. How long would it take to elect the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate to have the required votes just to move forward with a term-limit Amendment? Now think about the House with 436 Representatives. There is a process for a Constitutional Convention to amend the Constitution, but this requires two-thirds of the states (state legislatures) to support the initiative just to have the convention. Does anyone really think that a member of the US House of Representatives or the US Senate would actually vote themselves out of a job? 

My sense of things is that the people who call for term limits are doing so because they disagree with a position of a long-tenured Senator or Representative from another state. I doubt a majority of Californians have an issue with the longevity of Speaker Pelosi. If they did, she would have been voted out, as I doubt the majority of Kentuckians have an issue with Majority Leader McConnel’s longevity for the same reason. The fact of the matter is, we do have term limits in this country. They are called elections. People vote for who they believe will best represent their state at the national level. These term limits are demonstrated by the fact that the average longevity of a US Senator and a US Representative is less than 14 years. 

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