It’s Time for Term Limits in Congress

Hailie Addison

The average age of House Members of the 117th Congress is 58.4 years and the average age of Senators is 64.3 years. 

As per the Constitution, you must be at least 25-years-old to be a Representative and at least 30-years-old to be a Senator. There are currently no term or maximum age limits for those in Congress. 

It is something that many of us wonder: How are people, almost three times our generation’s age, supposed to accurately represent young Americans and what we want?

Almost every industry has mandatory retirement based on age-related declines in vision and hearing, the ability to endure stress, and the increased risk of medical emergencies. Currently, 31 states and the District of Columbia require state-level judges to retire when they reach a certain age. But yet there are no age limits for those in Congress. Why?

Currently, there is little to no conversation around implementing maximum age limits among Congress. Many members of Congress agree that age limits are not something that we will be seeing anytime soon, even though 3 in 4 Americans favor it, and 4 in 10 Americans view the ages of political leaders as a major problem. 

However, term limits are a more feasible solution that we may see and that is widely favored among the American public. According to the last five national polls, 82% of Americans want term limits. This is an issue that both sides agree on, including 89% of Republicans, 76% of Democrats, and 83% of independents, and an issue that both President Trump and President Obama also agreed on. 

Term limits within Congress would give other politicians the chance to be in Congress, rather than keeping the same politicians in their seats for several years. It would also fix part of the age problem that so many Americans want fixed. For example, Nancy Pelosi, who is 82-years-old, has been representing San Francisco for 35 years. With term limits, Pelosi and other congress members in similar situations, would not be able to represent a district for so many years.. 

Given that so many Americans support term limits, and that members of Congress are elected to represent the American people, why do politicians not support term limits, too? 

The answer is quite simple, money and power. Members of Congress are able to gain power by remaining in office. The seniority system is an incentive for Congressional incumbents to stay in office, arguably longer than they should. Seniority is used to determine who gets first choice at offices and who gets to chair committees. This often turns into a campaign mechanism; the longer they are in office, the more power they hold. During campaigns, they are able to use the seniority system to their advantage which often gets them reelected. 

Many who are against term limits argue that to be a good lawmaker, you need experience which you gain by staying in your position for years on end. Yet Congress only has a 14% approval rating among the American people, and 60% say they would “fire every member of Congress if they could”. 

Another argument against term limits is that older generations need to be represented in Congress. Term limits would not end older generations holding office, they would allow for more diversity across the board, including in age, ethnicity, gender, and ideology. Older generations could still be represented, but so could other groups of people that have not had equal representation in the past. 

Already, Congress is growing in racial and ethnic diversity with 124 lawmakers in the 117th Congress identifying as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or Native American. But that is only roughly 23%, leaving the other 77% white.  

Regardless of how many Americans support term limits, many Congressional incumbents are against them for their own selfish reasons. The reason being power. Congress Members would not have power without the people that elected them to represent.

Not giving their people what they are asking for is an abuse of power. Power that their people gave them and trusted them with when they were elected. 

In order to rejuvenate the government, bring in fresh ideas and outlooks, and create accurate representation of America’s diverse society, we must have term limits. It is one of the only issues that a majority of Americans agree upon, regardless of their views or political affiliation. It is something that Americans have pushed for for over 25 years. It is not only long overdue, but it is a wrongdoing of Congress Members to not give the people what they want. You can not build a career based on representation of the American people if you are not willing to represent them accurately, even if it means sacrificing the power and position that you hold.

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