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What Are the Pros and Cons of Term Limits in Congress?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 21, 2024
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The pros and cons of term limits in Congress have been debated pretty heavily over the years, and there are many opinions among experts on both sides of the issue. Most experts agree that the main advantages of term limits are the potential for a reduction in corruption, an increase in the number of new ideas flowing into the legislative environment, and politicians who might potentially focus more on effective governance instead of constantly worrying about reelection as a top priority. Some of the potential negatives include a constant influx of inexperienced politicians, and the potential consequences of congressional leaders who don't have any concern about voter opinions.

Many experts believe that politicians have a tendency to grow more corrupt as they spend more time in office. Some blame this on the legislative environment, while others simply cite basic human weakness and the tendency of people to succumb to temptation if they are exposed for too long. Term limits are often seen as one potential solution for this problem. By shortening congressional terms, proponents hope to make sure that nobody sees becoming a congressional representative as a viable lifetime career choice, leading to more people who get into politics for noble reasons instead of a simple desire for power.

limits in congress

Another possible advantage of term limits is the potential to change the behavior of people who are elected. It is pretty common for politicians to be accused of constant jockeying for electoral advantage instead of voting based on their real beliefs. For example, a political leader might decide to oppose a plan even though he knows it could help people simply because it was proposed by someone from the other side of the political spectrum, and voting for it might make it seem like he is siding with a political enemy. Some hope that by reducing the constant concerns about being reelected, term limits in Congress could potentially reduce this kind of political gamesmanship. Term limits would also potentially result in a constant influx of new people bringing new concepts and philosophies to the table, which is often seen as an important advantage.

Sometimes people stay in congress for a very long time, and they may become very skilled as legislators. Term limits would mean that nobody spent too much time in Congress, and after every election, there would be a huge class of rookies who wouldn't fully understand the insider tricks needed for effective legislating. Some people believe that this lack of understanding about how legislation works in a practical sense could be so disadvantageous that it might outweigh any potential advantages of term limits in Congress.

Another concern is that term limits would shorten the careers of some of the best congressional legislators. People who have no history of corruption or political gamesmanship would be forced to leave along with the bad apples, regardless of their performance or merit. There is also a lot of worry that it might not always be such a good thing if congressional legislators ignored the politics and the concerns of their constituents while in office. Legislators without any concern about politics might do more good in some cases, but they might also pursue ideologically unpopular ideas without a second thought.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997083 — On Nov 14, 2016

One thing I see that isn't mentioned in this article is: "Term Limits" are a direct assault on citizens rights. How about we limit money and its influence on and in congress? How about we limit K streets accessibility to congress? I say people trying to over run our government will celebrate for years, starting the day term limits are enacted.

If you really want to change how things are done in congress, then we need to change the things that are tempting in congress and not congress itself. If you put money in the streets and tell people not to steal it, well, they're gonna steal it, anyway. Changing the street signs aren't going to help. In effect, that's all term limits will do is change the street signs.

Term limits are nothing but a huge red herring. Fix corruption! Eliminate temptation! Stop stealing citizens' rights!

By RevJoe — On Feb 03, 2014

The problem either way is that we have a citizenry who is complacent and happy to be so. Even though they complain, they don't feel strongly enough to do anything. We truly would not need term limits if constituents would do their duty and learn about the candidates. The system would take care of itself.

Teaching the basics of good citizenship in school would be a good start to combat this. How to vote, the importance of voting, how the government is supposed to work, etc., are subjects held in low regard currently. However, it does not behoove a leadership that prefers spin over truth to encourage a knowledgeable citizenry. Do yourself and your children a great favor by learning and teaching them the basic responsibilities of good citizenship.

FDR is a good case to discuss when it comes to this issue. The justification for putting a term limit on the presidency was to eliminate the possibility of a charismatic leader taking over the process. Since they are alone as the leader of the executive branch, they wield a particularly large proportion of power as opposed to the legislators, who are tempered by their numbers.

@anon341248: It is debatable whether FDR did great things. Although I personally agree with you, there are scores of Republicans and Libertarians who disagree.

I agree with others in the comments that term limits would be good at a reasonable length, maybe at the 10 year mark that has been suggested (or 12 for Senate). This is a discussion that has been going on for quite a while, and I suspect it will continue for a while more.

By anon341248 — On Jul 09, 2013

Re-electing not re-electing has not worked. The people of this country have shown that they don't have the capacity to know when a congress person has had enough. The resent history has provided all of us the proof we need to provide better any argument that anyone here could come up with for or against term limits. We have corrupt legislators in Congress.

The constitution doesn't provide for term limits of the president, yet legislators decided we needed a 22nd Amendment to prevent more than two terms in that office. FDR though, did great things during some very tough times. Had he not died in office, he would have continued to run for office.

These very same legislators now don't think term limits should apply to them, because it would be unconstitutional. I would rather trust one man or woman to be president for more than two terms than a group of legislators that have entrenched themselves for life within our governing body to ensure their luxurious lifestyles at our expense.

By anon307073 — On Dec 03, 2012

Clean out congress and get rid of lobbyists. Set defined term limits, once the limit has been reached do not allow outgoing congress members to stay in Washington as consultants or lobbyists for at least two years. Make them all go home and live under the same laws they passed while in term.

By LoriCharlie — On Dec 01, 2012
@strawCake - I disagree with you. There are term limits for the president, so why shouldn't there be term limits for other elected officials? If the person who holds our highest office doesn't spent years in office before really learning the job, why should it be different for people who are in Congress?
By strawCake — On Nov 30, 2012

I really don't see the need for term limits. I would rather have people in Congress who are actually experienced making the laws, rather than having new people join every couple of years. If everyone in Congress were inexperienced, they would never get anything done.

Also, who knows what people would do if they didn't have to worry about being re-elected? They could just do whatever they wanted, instead of what the people they represent want them to do. I could see that going very, very wrong.

By SZapper — On Nov 30, 2012
@betterment - Interesting idea. Ten years sounds about right to me. It's enough time to learn the job and do some things, but it's not long enough to spend your whole adult life in Congress. I'm sure some people still wouldn't be happy with a 10-year limit, though.
By anon306354 — On Nov 29, 2012

@anon300826: The justices are chosen by the president and confirmed by Congress.

By betterment — On Nov 29, 2012

I think there is definitely a happy medium to be had on this issue. I think we could introduce term limits, but make them very reasonable. Maybe that no one could serve more than 10 years in Congress?

That way, we could still benefit from having experienced people, but people wouldn't be able to actually make a whole career out of being a politician. I think this could get rid of some of the problems that stem from people being career legislators and caring more about being re-elected than about actually doing their jobs.

By anon300826 — On Oct 31, 2012

I don't think that there should be term limits. I'm 13 and I know a lot about this topic. While many people argue that there should be term limits, I don't think there should because we would be forcing some of the best people out.

And before you stop reading this because you are saying that we would also be forcing the bad people out, which is a good thing, let me say that we wouldn't have to force them out using term limits. Hopefully, Americans would have the good sense not to re-elect them.

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