Several resolutions introduced in this Congress would propose a constitutional amendment creating term limits for members of Congress. There are three different proposals across nine separate resolutions. All would create a 12-year limit for the Senate, but members of the House would be limited to — depending on the proposal — six years as Presidential Candidate Donald Trump recently proposed, eight years, or an identical 12 years. Each proposal is listed at the bottom of this article.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that term limits prevent legislators from becoming power-hungry, too entrenched in “the system,” and losing touch with the real world.
Plus, as supporters also note, if terms limits are good for the presidency why not Congress too? The 22nd Amendment capping presidents at two terms was ratified in 1951, and there have been virtually no serious proposals in the past 65 years to repeal it. (Although Rep. Serrano has proposed repealing the 22nd Amendment under each president since Bill Clinton. And with President Obama currently posting higher approval ratings than either of the two major party candidates to succeed him, perhaps some Democrats may be rethinking their support for the 22nd Amendment.)
Congressional term limits is almost exclusively a Republican idea, with every bill introduced in this Congress that would enact term limits being both introduced and solely cosponsored by Republicans.
“If I’m elected president I will push for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress,” Trump said at a speech in Colorado introducing his ethics reform package. “Decades of failure in Washington and decades of special-interest dealing must and will come to an end.”
But Trump stands to gain from congressional term limits in ways he hasn’t mentioned.
What opponents say
Opponents argue that term limits would actually increase Congress’s reliance on lobbyists.
“If members are restricted to only serving a few terms, the logic goes, they have neither the time nor the incentive to develop the relevant expertise they need to be good at their jobs,” Molly Reynolds, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, wrote in the Washington Post. “If members don’t have that expertise themselves, they’re more likely to rely on outsiders, including lobbyists, to replace that expertise.”
Term limits would weaken Congress, and opponents of term limits believe that it’s corporate lobbyists and the president who stand to gain most from a weaker Congress — not constituents. A weaker Congress would mean less oversight of the executive branch, e.g. fewer investigations into government malfeasance and whether taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely. That’s why Trump stands to gain from his proposal, if he were elected president.
Proposals to create term limits
Although there has never been a federal law setting congressional term limits, 23 states had instituted state laws setting term limits for their congressional delegation. But the Supreme Court struck down the limits,saying only a constitutional amendment could change the qualifications for Members of Congress. The vote was 5–4, with the five liberal justices voting to strike down term limits and the four conservatives justices voting to uphold them. “Allowing individual States to craft their own congressional qualifications would erode the structure designed by the Framers to form a ‘more perfect Union,’” wrote John Paul Stevens for the majority.
GovTrack Insider counts nine resolutions introduced so far this Congress proposing term limits: eight bills in the House and one in the Senate. None of them have yet received a vote in the House or Senate Judiciary Committee, though some have attracted several dozen cosponsors.
The resolutions would have to pass a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states to change the Constitution.
Six-year limit for House, 12-year limit for Senate — Donald Trump’s proposal
- S.J. Res. 1, introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), with 14 cosponsors, all Republicans.
- H.J. Res. 14, introduced by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ5), with 17 cosponsors, all Republicans.
- H.J. Res. 49, introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL6), with five cosponsors, all Republicans.
Eight-year limit for House, 12-year limit for Senate
- H.J. Res. 6, introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA8), with no cosponsors.
12-year limit for the House and Senate
- H.J. Res. 11, introduced by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY6), with 25 cosponsors, all Republicans. It has not yet received a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
- H.J. Res. 13, introduced by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC5), with 12 cosponsors, all Republicans.
- H.J. Res. 19, introduced by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS4), with two cosponsors, both Republicans.
- H.J. Res. 21, introduced by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI7), with no cosponsors.
- H.J. Res. 39, introduced by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA10), with no cosponsors.