Upon first examination, the idea of implementing term limits in Congress is appealing. In fact, the idea of term limits was initially discussed by our founders, though it was eventually decided that it should not be included in the Constitution (Newton-Small, 2010). The reasons for considering term limits have remained consistent since the beginning of the country, however, and include ensuring legislative turnover, limiting the abuse of the power of seniority, and decreasing the advantages given to incumbents in the campaign process. Interestingly, the states that have adopted term limits have not seen the expected positive outcomes, nor have the opponents seen the dire results that had been predicted. Upon further investigation, the case for term limits is strong as long as it is a nationally based initiative in order to create uniformity and the limits are long enough to increase competence in the job and head off short-term thinking, however without increased voter involvement, no reform will solve the current concerns with Congress.
There are currently 15 states that have term limits in place for legislators, and among those states, there are seven different versions of term limits (National Conference for State Legislatures, 2009). The differences include the length of time for the limits and whether they are lifetime limits or just consecutive term limits. The difference in the parameters, and the fact that there has been no national reform passed, impacts the effectiveness of the restrictions. For example, consider the fact that congressional privilege and power is often based on seniority. States with current term limits have placed themselves in a weaker position when it comes to power within the legislature (Morrison, 1992). Unless all states abide by the same term limits, the distribution of power in Washington will remain out of balance.
In addition to the need to eliminate the over-arching benefit of seniority in Congress, the implementation of consistent term limits would dissipate additional concerns that have risen over the past several years. Specifically, incumbents are able to generate publicity, serve constituents, and receive support in organizing their offices, giving them a distinct advantage when seeking reelection (Glassman, Hemlin, & Wilhelm, 2011). Limiting terms would not eliminate those advantages, but it would even the playing field across the country and decrease the edge of incumbents over time.
Once the question of term limits is addressed in a general manner, the specific length of time must be determined. One way to address the question may be to look at average tenure over the history of the country. During the early years of the Congress, tenure within both the House and Senate averaged only three years (Glassman, Hemlin, & Wilhelm, 2011, pp. 6-7). As time progressed, so did the average length of service by legislators. This phenomenon is likely due to factors including the...