Congress ended session on Sept. 23, giving Americans another opportunity to evaluate their representatives before engaging in their civic duty at the ballot boxes this November. Though Congressmen will spend the next six weeks back at their home districts to address their reelection campaigns, Americans have yet another opportunity to assess the elements plaguing this dysfunctional Congress.
It is no secret that Americans feel that their representatives are not following through with their primary duty: representing their citizens. A recent poll demonstrates that about 53 percent of the country’s likely voters believe that neither the Democratic nor Republican party represents the interests of the American people. With gridlock, partisanship and special interests, it is evident that Congress is inefficient and that they fail to accurately represent the interests of the citizens, which are becoming increasingly alienated and unaccounted for. The biggest issue plaguing the American political landscape is the lack of congressional accountability to their constituents – indubitably resulting from the lack of congressional term limits.
Though the lack of term limits has had a tremendous impact on American democracy, conventional perspectives would commonly attribute this failure in accountability to the effect of money in politics. And with decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC, that have removed political spending limits by corporations and aggregate spending limits by people, as well as immensely increasing the influence special interest groups can assert in politics, this attribution has not come without merit. This is easily understood by just witnessing the amount of time congressmen spend each day fundraising for their campaign rather than performing their legislative duties. When donors have frequent access to congressmen and can give large sums at any point in time (say before voting on certain legislation), it is easy to understand how the issues that our representatives focus on are skewed to the agenda of their campaign donors.
Though campaign finance has greatly threatened the ability for congressmen to accurately represent their constituents and not special interest groups, the constitutionally inherent lack of term limits, coupled with high incumbency rates has created a collection of career politicians more interested in reelection and staying in power than serving their constituents, and this has disintegrated accountability in politics and has endangered the representation of Americans more than any campaign finance legislation. Today’s political system is illustrated by a myriad of Congressmen who are not accountable for their legislative duties yet hold office time and time again. Political satisfaction rates for congressmen are at an all time low, with only six percent of probable voters believing that their representatives are doing a good or excellent job, according to Rasmussen Reports. Yet, even with a number so low, the incumbency rates for congressmen are at a staggering 90 percent.
Such tenacious incumbency can be explained by the immense advantages available to representatives that enable them to perpetually maintain offices. These advantages include name recognition, gerrymandered districts that favor parties, and most importantly, the ability to raise more funds than competitors. Seven hundred percent more funds were distributed in the 2008 election cycle to incumbents than to their challengers. This demonstrates the strong implausibility that incumbents have of losing office – a very dangerous reality that perpetuates a legislative body that virtually no longer needs the legitimacy or satisfaction of its citizens.
The lack of term limits has severely threatened the representation of American citizens in this democratic system. Simply stated, legislators have no accountability. When it is more important for congressmen to support the donors and special interests groups that assist them in remaining incumbents than it is to perform their legislative duty, there is virtually no necessity to represent or care about the interests of their constituents.
America needs term limit legislation right now in order to repair a system that enables congressmen to be virtually unaccountable to their citizens. This has over time created a legislative body that is constantly bought out by special interest groups and therefore alienated by the needs and desires of constituents. When Congressmen are more interested in staying in power than representing their citizens, they become susceptible to corruption and the whims of special interest groups.
Not only would term limits diminish the strength of incumbency and the power of special interest groups, but it would also reorient the focus of elected officials to effecting change or enacting the platform that they were voted in on, instead of establishing an immortal career in politics. On top of creating a body that is more accountable to the citizens they represent instead of donors, term limits invigorate progress in Congress (two rarely synonymous words) by bringing in fresh ideas, incentivizing quicker action, limiting the chance for corrupt officials and their scope of corruption, diminishing the focus on special interests and the importance for image and legacy when trying to accomplish what is important.
Though money in politics has had a devastating effect on the representation of citizens, a lack of term limits allows congressmen to be unaccountable, making it easier to care more for pleasing special interest groups in order to establish permanent careers in Congress than to represent American citizens. The best way to mitigate the ills is to bring in term limits.