A More Perfect Constitution Begins with Congressional Term Limits Professor Larry Sabato is the founder of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia presents 23 proposals to revitalize our Constitution and Make America a Fairer Country. His book provides insight for a hard fought debate. Whether you like his suggestions or not or you agree with him or not, you have to respect anyone that can outwardly state that the United States Constitution as it has been handed down is “outdated. This quest for reform I’m sure would anger many political conservatives who believe that the Constitution that we know today, is not in need of any reform, and is just the true document that is has always been and should remain. There a few things within the recommendations that one would have issues with, but for the most part a lot of his ideas have merit. For instance Sabato’s suggestion that there be a Universal National Service, where every American being of “sound mind” be required to provide two years of military or civilian service.
Now this particular recommendation is going to require a lot of buy in from not only me, but from the general public and more than like some of our conservative politicians. I think that Sabato realized this because of his quote “Libertarians find this proposal especially objectionable, insisting that governmental power over the individual must be kept to an absolute minimum…. But,… the libertarian approach ignores the substantial benefits not just for society but for the individual in the commitment to service. Although I can understand the proposal or commitment to service, it is difficult for me to fully buy into a forced requirement to serve in the military. Unfortunately this reminds me of over one hundred years ago when African Americans were forced into labor; later well known to everyone as slavery. I can only imagine that after requiring everyone to serve only two years, that there would be some need to extend that requirement out to three, four, five or more years.
Heaven forbid that we find ourselves in some degree of conflict that we like to call “war,” and then that requirement becomes an indeterminate number of years. If the government can demand any numbers of years of your life, then you are essentially owned by the government. Many of us have opinions on the government, whether it is how it manages the annual fiscal budget and the overall debt of the United States or the Executive Branch of the government; we can agree that opinions run from the very minimal to the overly opinionated.
There are many opinions of government today than we probably have seen in decades. With a growing recession and fears of home foreclosures, growing unemployment, failing corporate giants and the excessive salaries of bank presidents and corporate chief executives; it is no wonder that there are so many opinions on what appears to be a failing governmental system. Consider balanced budgets and government continuity; these talks bring very mild responses in today’s society. It appears that government does not know how to balance a budget as we seem to fall deeper and deeper in trillions of dollars of debt.
The goal of achieving a balanced budget and strong fiscal economy probably doesn’t matter as much to us currently as it potentially will for our children and their future. President Jefferson and Washington both spoke eloquently about the importance of our fiscal responsibilities as a government. There is probably no more an important warning that the one that Washington spoke after completing his second term of office in 1776, when he warned of the actions of today and the affects on the future of tomorrow “ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. Despite our respect for these two presidents, we have continued to permit a huge budgetary problem to materialize. As Sabato has articulated in his book, he believes that Washington, Madison and Jefferson would say that the words that are written in the Constitution shouldn’t be viewed as the final word and would encourage us to think about constructive changes in the framework. Do we presume to place the blame solely on our presidents, or do we consider the fact that the executive branch of government is much bigger than just the president, and how does that affect the running of the government in otality; more so the continuity of our government and the legislative branch. Continuity of government, just like business continuity plans of a corporation have existed since the 1950’s with overbearing threat of the USA v. USSR nuclear war prompted President Truman to develop a plan to ensure that the infrastructure of the government continued to operate under catastrophic conditions. Admittedly even though these efforts continued after Truman, some of these programs were allowed to lapse after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Due to terrorist attacks in the mid 1990’s, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order requiring all departments and agencies to develop contingency plans for resuming critical functions following a disaster. George W. Bush’s administration also tried to reestablish Continuity of Government programs. Progress has been made in some areas, but the progress does not include Congress in the event of a critical event. Article I of the Constitution gives all legislative powers to the Congress.
Congress consists of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, both Senators and Representatives chosen through an election process. The 435 members of the House of Representatives represents a district and serves a two-year term. The 100 Senators serve staggered six-year terms. The proposals outlined by Sabato would reshape Congress. The Senate would be a more representative body, with heavily populated states adding seats. The upper legislative chamber would also be a place to harness the experience and talents of former presidents and vice presidents.
The House would be redistricted to build in more electoral competition, the size of the House would be expanded considerably to draw congressman and constituent closer together. It didn’t take long after opening this book and beginning to read that I began to see how some of these proposals for reform would affect the United States as we know it today, especially as we began to pick apart the possibilities of reforming the one area that is responsible for passing laws of the land. So lets take a look at how the Congress would be affected by Professor Sabato’s proposal in Creating a New Capital Congress.
In the words of Larry Sabato “It’s not hard to discern how most Americans look at Congress. Whether in public opinion polls or person-in-the-street interviews, citizens regard the national legislators the way they would disliked relatives: They know they have to live with them, but they hope to have as little contact as possible. Can Congress blame us for feeling this way? Year after year, the Congress seems hopelessly deadlocked on issues of immediate concern to the country. “ We the People in order to form a more Perfect Union, establish justice and blah, blah, blah…. ho ever really reads the Constitution, understand every word, and abide by every word that is written in it? Obviously not the Congress, as it is charged that we the people are the voice of the government. Is it the Special Interest Groups and Lobbyist that have a stronger voice in terms of what the constituents really want, or is it the every day ordinary Joe and Jane that elected representation to be our voice in government? “The lobbyists deliver lots of campaign cash, and whatever the ethics laws of the moment, they find wars to richly reward their legislative friends. The reforms as proposed by Sabato can potentially erase some of the scorn and distaste of the Lobbyist, and assist the Congress in carrying out the wishes of the people and renewing its position in the eyes of the American public. This is one of the main reasons that I chose this as the one proposal that should be fought for to become the law of the land, because you have to instill the trust in the public, we need to be able to rein in the ones that are closest to our representation to make a difference in our government.
We elect Congressmen, Senators and Representatives from our districts, and they should speak for all the people within those districts, because unfortunately we all can not be in those meetings on Capitol Hill, when a bill is just a bill. So healthcare for every American; we want that to be an equal and fair process and easily accessible. As Sabato also points out, instead of seeing a lot of positive action, we see a lot of headlines about congressional corruption of bribery and influence peddling. “The reasons for the public’s semi permanent disaffection with Congress are all too clear.
No committee of 535 can act with dispatch or appear especially organized; even with strong legislative leadership, Congress is composed of independently elected members, each of whom has a sizable ego. The division of the legislature into two separate bodies, House and Senate, creates more disunity and contributes to the chaotic image Congress frequently projects. “ No one can believe that the Founding Fathers ever intended to create career politicians that spend their lives running for a seat in public offices, becoming pawns of special-interest groups, and enriching themselves at the public drinking hole.
There is a need to reform this area of government, and term limits need to be incorporated into the new constitution Term limits should be a part of the new Constitution, whether it be on the state level or the federal level, because it seems unfair to have these individuals who seem to remain in these positions for an indeterminate amount of time. Twenty-three states had moved to impose term limits with laws that had been passed over a five year period before the US Supreme Court struck them down as being unconstitutional in the 1995 U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, which came out of Arkansas’ term limits provision.
The last time that Congress dealt with the issue of term limits was in 1197, when the vote to install a 12 year cap in the House and Senate did not gather the required two-thirds for passage. There are critics that believe that by arbitrarily preventing a legislator from seeking office gain, even if he/she is not doing a good job, term limits eat away at the sovereign right to choose candidates to choose candidates they prefer. California first started terming out legislators in 1996 within the California house, and then in 1998 a few more state houses and more in 2000.
The analysis of California’s move does indicate that on one hand it has offered voters more choices at the polls, as there seems to be more vacant seats available, closely contested races, indicating there is a greater degree of competitiveness. Women and Latinos have gained significant strides in the number of seats that they occupy. There are a mixed bag of results with the analysis of term limits that are imposed, as these studies compare the experience of legislators across term limited states. There are both positive and negative results within these studies. Diversity-Term limits have not changed the composition of the legislatures. One survey indicates that there has been virtually no effect on the demographics, professional backgrounds, education levels, income levels, age or ideology. Term limits might have increased minority representation, and similarly there have been gains by women. ? Political and Voter Experience-Voters in term limited states are less likely than before to know who their legislator is, or their position on political platforms.
As Sabato has indicate, if there is one reason why term limits should be included as part of the fibers of the Constitution, that would be the needs of the people. “If democracy means anything, we need to take into account the public’s strong disposition for term limits. Both the actual voting results across the states and the findings in poll after poll demonstrate that the electorate wants this reform. ” The states have served as proving grown for this change in term limits, and have paved the way for this reform.
Although there are critics that will argue that by imposing term limits, this practice may without proper reflection open the door for some Americans to limit the term of what would be termed as some “unpopular minorities” like Muslims shortly after an event like September 11, or cut back on civil liberties contained in the Bill of Rights. Creating Term limits would also open questions as to how stringent you would want the limits to be. Michigan and California set very tight limits, requiring limits of six year lifetime limit in the House and eight year lifetime limit in the Senate.
Unlike California, Michigan has seen very little change in the racial or gender demographics in its legislature as a result of term limits. James Penning’s study of the Michigan experience hasn’t shown any diminishing factors of the amount of lobbying that takes place in the legislator. Another argument against term limit would be the lack of political “old hands” has resulted in a period of inexperience and instability. “Committee chairs and party leaders have less experience than , while in some years California has experienced even longer delays than in the past in passing its state budget. However, interestingly enough California has not seen a return to ideal of citizen-legislator. I personally favor this amendment because of its allowance for a greater degree of choice by the people that should run the governments, or that government should answer to “We the People. ” Yet it seems that over the course of years, we have elected officials to office, and because of the lobbyist and special interest groups, we get little of what we really want in terms of passage of laws.
If they satisfy the needs of these lobbyist, then it literally takes an act of Congress to get them removed from office. So the people sit idly by as votes on special projects baring the name of many wealthy donors and organizations get pushed through the voting process, while the critically important items like a balanced budget, universal healthcare, and protection of our environment get passed over year after year. The time for new blood and opportunity for varying ethnicity and gender occurs through limiting the terms of office and allow much quicker turnover; its time to clean house.