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Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) written with Congressman Beto O’Roarke (D-TX)
Many in our country and in the districts we represent feel that Congress is out of touch and that members are more focused on re-election than on providing real solutions to our nation’s biggest challenges. We hear from constituents all the time that there is a lack of urgency and focus when it comes to solving our country’s toughest issues like tackling the deficit and putting policies in place that will lead to economic growth.
The two of us, freshman members from different parties with divergent views on many issues, have come together because we believe a healthy debate is warranted on how we best serve the American people and whether, in a time of enormous powers of incumbency and multi-million dollar campaigns for Congress, we can be better public servants and curb the corrupting influence of money and power by limiting a member’s term in office.
Public opinion in favor of term limits for members of Congress is unquestionable. A Gallup poll released this past January reflects the same trend seen year after year from countless reputable research firms. Overall, 75 percent of American adults responding to the survey were in favor of implementing term limits and the support is unanimous across party lines.
That support stands in stark contrast to the overall approval rating of Congress, which hovers somewhere around 15 percent. Despite the unpopularity of Congress as a whole, sitting members still win re-election about 90 percent of the time due to the overwhelming benefits of incumbency. A system that rewards poor performance with job security is clearly in need of a shake-up. Congressional term limits could be the change needed to steer the institution back in the right direction.
Our proposal is a simple constitutional amendment. It does not prescribe the number of terms a member can serve; rather, it gives Congress the constitutional authority to pass and implement term limits. The reason for this structure is that by taking away the details from the amendment process, the likelihood of passage increases. We believe that even members who are philosophically opposed to term limits would support a constitutional amendment providing the legislative branch with the ability to debate and vote on the issue.
Despite widespread popularity, congressional term limits are incredibly difficult to implement because doing so requires a constitutional amendment with two-thirds of both chambers as well as ratification by three-fourths of America’s state legislatures. Having super majorities agree on the details of term limits, including the exact number of terms, is nearly impossible. Since 1995, there have been several attempts to move specific term limits amendments, but all have ended right where they began by being voted down in the House.
Previous term limit efforts have also failed because the only people who can begin the process to impose term limits are those who will be most affected – incumbent members of Congress. By voting in favor of, or even publicly supporting a term limits amendment, a member of Congress can be exposed to charges of hypocrisy or disingenuousness if they don’t also voluntarily limit their term of service. This has a chilling effect on those who would otherwise support term limit efforts.
Congress owes the American people action on term limits, including a new approach that actually stands a chance of becoming law. Our approach provides the flexibility needed to enact term limit laws by a simple majority and to allow future generations to decide the term limit law that works best for them through the regular legislative process.
For far too long, Congress has failed to give the people what they clearly want. We should pass this amendment and finally put that power in their hands.
Jim Bridenstine represents the First District of Oklahoma