New Castle News

April 27, 2013

John K. Manna: Term limits again considered

John Finnerty

HARRISBURG — Some things just never go away.

One of them is the idea to impose term limits on members of Congress.

Once a big deal in the 1990s, discussion about imposing term limits has died down to a whisper in recent years. But the idea is apparently not dead.

In fact, just this week an Arizona congressman introduced an amendment to the Constitution limiting terms for House members to three and senators to two. That would mean six years for House members and 12 years for senators.

Now, members of Congress can serve as long as their constituents keep electing them. Joseph Lieberman was elected four times to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut and retired last year. After opposing term limits while in the Senate, he now endorses them.

Strange, isn’t it?

Anyway, have you ever really thought about why people want to impose term limits on members of Congress but tend to ignore everyone else from township auditor up mayor or county commissioner?

There have been exceptions in some states where limits have been placed on state legislators. Plus, Pennsylvania has term limits for statewide offices, including governor, attorney general, auditor general and treasurer.

However, for the most part, the emphasis has been on Washington rather than local government for limiting how long elected officials can serve.

The argument for limiting term of House members and senators is that after a certain point they lose touch with their constituents. Nobody has yet determined when they arrive at this point. Could it be four years, six years, 10 or 20?

So, if they do lose touch with the folks back home, why is that? It can’t be because they aren’t back home in their districts enough. The House, for example, is scheduled to be in session 126 days this year, thus giving them the rest of the year at home.

Could it be that they lose touch when they receive huge campaign contributions from various political action committees and are heavily lobbied by those organizations?

The answer, of course, is yes. As a result, they end up paying more attention to the lobbyists than they do to the constituents who put them in office in the first place.

Candidates for local offices receive campaign contributions, but nothing resembling those received by federal lawmakers. And, they don’t have lobbyists sitting outside their offices on a daily basis.

Furthermore, there have been mayors throughout the country who have served multiple terms and did not fall out of favor with the voters.

The people who get elected to Congress are no different from those who win election locally. But the one thing that distinguishes the two is campaign funding. Limiting terms may make some people feel good, but it will do little to change the culture in Washington as long as the money continues to flow.