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Last week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing titled “Keeping Congress Accountable: Term Limits In the United States.” Chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the primary sponsor of the Senate’s constitutional amendment to impose term limits on Congress, the hearing included testimony from former-Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) as well as from a panel of two professors -- Lynda W. Powell and Dr. John David Rausch, Jr. -- alongside Nick Tomboulides, the Executive Director of the nonprofit group U.S. Term Limits.
The hearing is extremely timely given recent events in both chambers of Congress. Now more than ever, Washington’s elected officials needs to answer to their voters and “drain the swamp,” by truly changing the way things are run in our nation’s capital city. Term limits are certainly part of this equation, and they would go best if implemented hand-in-hand with forcing a better process with better leaders.
Just last Tuesday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) celebrated her 7,000th consecutive vote in the Senate. It is certainly laudable that she has not missed a single vote since taking the office. More senators and representatives should strive to do the same. After all, voting is one of the most basic and well-understood functions of our legislative branch. More on this later.
However, this milestone of 7,000 votes is staggeringly high, given how infrequently the Senate votes as compared to the House. When one realizes that Sen. Collins has been in the Senate since 1997, this number makes more sense. After more than three-and-a-half terms, totaling to 22 years of service in the Senate, Sen. Collins is just one example of a senator who has been in office too long.
Her tenure, though, seems like nothing compared to that of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has been in the Senate since 1975. He has served 44 years in the Senate, which at age 79, is more than half of his entire life. There are long-serving Republican senators as well, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been in the Senate since 1981.
While we are thankful for some of the wonderful work done by Sen. Grassley and even by Sen. Leahy in some cases, these extremely long tenures in Congress run counter to many of the goals of our nation’s government, where the voices of the people are meant to reign supreme. With such deeply-entrenched politicians in D.C. so close to the special interests and party leadership that back their reelection campaigns, it is no wonder that the voices of these groups win out over those of members’ constituents all too frequently.
A major hurdle to accountability to constituents is member voting, or more appropriately, lack thereof. In recent weeks in the House, thanks to Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), the House has been doing more of this. By using the tools at his disposal to successfully force a policy end, Rep. Roy earlier this week ceased his demands for recorded votes in the House on everything, policy or otherwise, that the House moved to do. This angered many of his colleagues who have become swamp creatures over time, some more rapidly than others.
One can be certain that many of the complaints came from members who have spent decades in Congress, such as this one cited by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a supporter of term limits, on Twitter. However, it also stands out that multiple freshman members weren’t happy with having to vote (read: do their jobs), either, including Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), who groaned about a canceled baseball practice. “What I am really pissed off about is that as a result of Chip Roy's procedural antics, [Democrats] had to cancel our 7 a.m. baseball practice this morning,” he bemoaned to the media.
Rightly, as a result of this, Rep. Roy speculated, “Based on the age to anger ratio, I think we’ve found a trick to get term limits... force votes that go late! #DoWhatWeSaid” This holds an unfortunate amount of truth, in exposing how most members are not willing to work for the constituents they were elected to serve if it means losing some sleep. Americans deserve better members representing them.
Implementing term limits would certainly decrease the amount of damage done by the worst and deepest-entrenched swamp creatures who have been in Congress for decades on end. They would also increase the chance for better members to be elected. But, in addition to implementing term limits, Americans need to also carefully scrutinize those whom they elect, as it doesn’t take long for the swamp to settle into many members’ mindsets.
Step one is implementing term limits by passing and ratifying the constitutional amendment that Sen. Cruz held a hearing for, S.J.Res. 1 or its identical House companion H.J.Res. 20. Step two, though, is ensuring that those fighters in Washington, D.C. continue to demand better process, weeding out people from running who aren’t willing to answer to their constituents, go on the record to vote, and spend late nights on the floor if that’s what doing their job requires.
Between these efforts, Washington would be a much better place for the American people and for the integrity of our nation. Fortunately, we can move forward on both at once, and Rep. Roy’s recent bold push -- with the backing of those colleagues who stood behind him -- is proof of this.