The Case for Three Year Congressional Terms
Robert A. Levine 2-6-23
For years, there has been considerable discussion about Congressional term limits to reduce corruption, the power of incumbency, and the influence of lobbyists on members of Congress. Term limits would also introduce new and younger members into Congress, where the average age now is close to sixty. However, another way to reform the House of Representatives, with or without term limits, would be to increase the term of members of Congress from two years to three years. This measure would require a Constitutional amendment but would have many positive effects on Congress and its elected members and aid the functioning of the Federal government.
With re-election looming every two years for members of Congress, an inordinate amount of time must be spent by Congressmen and women in raising money for their campaigns. This process literally starts the moment they enter the halls of Congress. Freshman members of Congress are instructed by their party leaders that ‘dialing for dollars’ is an important part of their jobs if they wish to be re-elected. In fact making calls to prospective donors and wealthy backers in and out of their districts is a daily task for most Congressmen and women, often consuming a number of hours each day. They also must meet with lobbyists and donors when they visit Washington and back in their districts when Congress is not in session. The time spent in pursuing funds often exceeds the time spent in in the process of legislating, proposing bills, reading bills of others, and actual Congressional work.
Because raising funds is so important with elections every two years, members of Congress are often willing to do favors for wealthy donors or lobbyists, influencing the way they vote. And in addition to the time employed in making fund-raising calls and individual meetings with lobbyists and donors, Congressmen and women must attend in-person fund raising events in Washington and in their home districts. These fund raisers are often set up for them by lobbyists and wealthy donors, allowing them to glad-hand and speak with people who may be willing to give them money.
Rather than Congresspersons with innovative ideas and legislative abilities, individuals who are the most prolific fundraisers are the people who advance faster and further to positions of power in Congress. This includes appointments to important committees and sub-committees, chairmanships of committees and party officers. In fact, some of the top Congressional fundraisers are able to help their fellow party members in Congress who are less adept at soliciting money. This puts the recipient in the debt of Congressional fundraisers, with a willingness to vote for and with these funders. The same pressure to raise money is not there for senators except during the last two years of their six year terms when re-election campaigns are nearing. Thus they have proportionately more time to be involved in the legislative process.
While term limits on its own may be a worthwhile reform, it will not end the constant need of members of Congress to raise funds for re-election. Ideally, funding for candidates should come from the government and be strictly limited, with no outside money or PACs allowed to play a role in political campaigns. But the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court makes this consideration impossible.
A three year term for Congressional members would not completely eliminate the requirement for time utilized in fundraising, but it would make the need less acute and take some of the pressure off of representatives. Perhaps it would even make them less susceptible to the blandishments offered by lobbyists and wealthy donors. They would have more time to devote to legislating instead of constantly pursuing funding.
The designers of the Constitution wanted two year terms for House members because they saw them as the voice of the people and expected them to constantly interact with their constituents and answerable to them. With social media and the internet, members of Congress can regularly interact with their constituents currently, sometimes to their chagrin, whether or not they are campaigning. Having to be re-elected every two years is no longer necessary. While having a three year term for Congressional members could be scheduled together for all members every three years, having one third of Congress elected every year for a three year term would keep the two parties working fervently to satisfy constituents, or control of Congress could change. This format would neither encourage nor discourage independents and third party candidates. It is a simple and needed change that would benefit the democratic process.
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