Let me begin by thanking all of you for attending, and thanking Senator Hirono for working with me and my staff, to convene this hearing, and bring these witnesses together. The topic before us, is one I believe of great importance, the need for term limits for members of Congress, so that we can begin to fix what is broken here in Washington politics.
Before I introduce our first panel, I’d like to explain why we’ve organized today’s hearing. The 2016 election, the American people made a resounding call to drain the swamp that is modern Washington, and sadly, this is a bipartisan problem. The American people have lost confidence in Washington, and especially in Congress, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Enmeshed in back room deals, and broken promises, our capitol has too often become a political playground for the powerful, and the well-connected, for members of the permanent political class looking to accumulate more and more power, at the expense of American taxpayers.
As part of his promise to drain the swamp, President Trump strongly endorsed, and campaigned, on passing Congressional term limits. Though our founders didn’t include term limits in the Constitution, they feared the creation of a permanent political class, that existed parallel to, rather than within American society.
As Benjamin Franklin observed, “In free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter, was not to degrade, but to promote them.”
The fears of the Framers, have today been realized. Today, the swamp is hard at work, picking winners and losers, with hardworking Americans typically winding up on the losing end.
Every year, Congress spends billions of dollars on giveaways for the well-connected. Washington insiders get taxpayer money, members of Congress get reelected, and the system works for everyone except the American people.
This kind of self-interest builds on itself, as members spend more and more time in office. In an age in which the partisan divide seem intractable, it is remarkable that public support for Congressional term limits remains strong, across party lines.
In poll after poll, conducted over decades, Americans who are Republicans, who are Democrats, who are Independents, Americans who are conservatives, who are liberals, who are moderates, who are men, who are women, who are Anglo American, who are African American, who are Hispanic, all support term limits by overwhelming margins.
For example, a 2018 McLaughlin & Associates poll found that 82% of Americans support term limits for Congress, including 89% of Republicans, but also 76% of Democrats support term limits. 83% of Independents support term limits, 72% of Hispanics support term limits, and 70% of African Americans support term limits.
Indeed, the one group, it seems in America, that doesn’t support term limits, are career politicians here in Washington. Everybody else recognizes the problem. A 2016 Rasmussen poll showed much the same thing, as did a 2013 Gallup poll. These results have been consistent year, after year, after year.
Ending that dynamic of Congress enriching insiders, and using those insiders to hold onto powers, favors neither party. It’s not a problem of just Republicans, or just Democrats. Restoring confidence and accountability in Congress shouldn’t be the business of just one party, or of just this committee, or even of just the Senate. It concerns all Americans, whatever your politics. So, why hasn’t Congress acted already?
It’s straightforward. Too many career politicians don’t want to restrict their own power, and neither party wants to act on its own. Still, the American people recognize that Congressional term limits would help fix the brokenness and corruption fostered by career politicians in Washington today.
At our founding, representatives left their homes, their farms, their businesses. They traveled to Washington to represent their constituents. They served in Congress for a time, but usually returned to their homes, and their affairs. Leaders like George Washington, and John Adams, and James Madison, reached the height of political power, and then relinquished it to return to private life.
Today, members of Congress aren’t doing that. Instead, far too many of our politicians come to Washington to stay. Too much of Washington’s business is dictated by career politicians, by bureaucrats, and by lobbyists who spend time as one or the other.
The rise of political careerism in modern Washington is a sharp departure from what the founders intended in our federal governing bodies. To effectively drain the swamp, and to end the phenomenon of career politicians, it is long past time to enact term limits for Congress.
I am the author of a Constitutional Amendment that would limit U.S. Senators to two six-year terms, and would limit members of the House of Representatives to three two-year terms. At this point, we currently have 14 co-sponsors in the Senate. It is my hope that this hearing today will help explain why we should come together, Republicans and Democrats, across party lines, to enact term limits to protect the American people.
The Senate, I believe, should take up and vote on the term limits amendment that I’ve introduced. If Congress will simply listen to the American people, to the overwhelming majorities, across party lines, that want to see term limits, which we have for the President, see term limits also for Congress, then we can rest confidence that the states would quickly ratify that amendment. The only impediment is the United States Congress, and I hope that this hearing, and the panel that we have today, the two panels, will help move that discussion forward.