A Workable Alternative to Term Limits

The end of another election once again brings into focus the problem of Washington politicians raising money and running for re-election as soon as they get into office. Many citizens and various government-accountability advocacy groups have done little more than complain from time to time. However, some of them, along with many members of the media, have been pushing for term limits as a solution. But is that really the solution we need? Even with term limits, we would still be left with the same old problems, only in smaller doses, i.e., politicians would still be playing the same old campaigning and fund raising games for whatever amount of subsequent terms they are allowed. Also, we would still be stuck with the situation in which sitting Senators and Representatives (even those with no remaining terms for the office they hold) spend their time running for higher office.

I say forget about term limits in Washington as I have a better solution. I call it “term interruptions.” Here’s how it would work: No President/Vice President, Senator, or Representative could serve two consecutive terms in the same office and would have to sit out at least two years before being eligible for a different federal office although he/she could be elected to an unlimited number of terms in any number of federal offices. For example, a U.S. Representative could not succeed himself/herself in that office and would have to wait until he/she has been out of office for at least two years before being eligible for President/Vice President, a Senate seat, or any seat in the House of Representatives. In other words, a sitting President/Vice President, Senator, or Representative could not run for re-election and he/she could not run for any elective seat in the legislative or executive branches of the federal government. That way, they could all focus on serving their constituents rather than getting re-elected. They could use the two off-years for campaigning and raising money.

However, this proposal could be problematic for the U.S. House of Representatives, since its members currently serve only two-year terms. Under my plan, the House would see a complete turnover (all 435 members) every two years. Therefore, I would propose four-year terms for U.S. Representatives. Of course, we would still get a complete turnover in the House, only after every four years instead of every two years, so there would still be a problem.

To prevent a complete turnover every four years, terms could be staggered so that half the members of the House are up for re-election every two years. However, in the first House election under my plan, half of the House would get four-year terms, with the other half getting two-year terms. A way to determine who gets the four-year terms in the initial election would be as follows: The House member in each state with widest margin of victory in that election would get a four-year term. The 168 remaining members (on an at-large basis) with the next highest victory margins would also get four-year terms, for a total of 218. The remaining 217 members would get only two-year terms for that election only. For the next election only, members who got two-year terms would be allowed to run for re-election, without sitting out two years. Then, beginning with that election, they would all get four-year terms and the term interruptions rules would fully take effect.