Pros and cons of Congress age and term limits

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Pro by Anika Yoder | Feature Editor

In Congress, Senate members are elected for a six year long term, and members of the House of Representatives are elected for two years in office according to the White House web page. Congress members are able to be reelected after each term which brings about the discussion surrounding the amount of times a Congressperson should be allowed to be up for reelection. Within the executive branch, the President is only able to serve two, four-year terms, according to the White House web page.

Congress not being given a limit on the amount of times they can be reelected has been a debate that concerns possible problems regarding the age and demographics of Congress overall. According to the Pew Research Center, the age of the Senate is getting older with the median age being 65.3 years which is up from last year’s 117th Congress median age of 64.8. This would seem indiscriminate; however, from the 115th Congress, which was from 2017-19, the Senate age median has gone from 62.4 to 65.3, according to the Pew Research Center. This provides an interesting look at the kind of people that are creating legislation, since, according to Axios, the average American is 20 years younger than the average House and Senate member. This is an important aspect of the makeup of Congress to understand because, though the average American is younger than the average Congressperson, the average voter turnout is based largely in the geriatric population, according to Bloomberg Government. The voters aged 65 and up, according to Bloomberg Government, in the 2016 and 2020 elections voted at an increased rate as opposed to younger voters. This ties into term limits, as with the older voters voting for the House and Senate members that represent their demographics, the Congress members stay in their seats come election time. If term limits were to be instilled, the people voting, no matter what age they are, would have to choose another candidate for their respective districts. This would make it so that the same legislators are not staying in their seats for decades and making changes or not making changes that do not reflect their constituents’ needs. 

Another topic related to the issue of lack of term limits, is that districting within states allows for the same kind of individuals in Congress to keep their seats. Gerrymanderingis the practice of drawing districts to favor one political party or racial group, skews election results and makes electoral races less competitive, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Districts being drawn to favor a particular party and candidates allow for the people serving multiple terms to stay in their seats based on the people living in their districts that are drawn to favor a population.

The concept of gerrymandering allows for the populations that candidates run to represent to be that of only one kind of population. If when drawing districts, a population of largely white or upper class citizens are placed deliberately into that district, then the only people that will be winning and continue to run within that district will be white or upper class. That is not truly representative of the other people casting their vote that do not fit that demographic.

Essentially, if Congress members are given term limits, then the other aspects that keep the legislators who are not representative of their states and districts in their seats will not be able to maintain them with term limits. In a country that is constantly evolving with diverse people vying for true and accurate representation, term limits are paramount to keeping the power in the hands of the voters.

Con by Olivia Pastrick | Entertainment Editor

Three in four Americans support setting a maximum age limit on members of Congress, and more than 4 in 10 think that the ages of political leaders is a problem, according to Business Insider. Part of the reason behind Americans’ concern with the age of representatives in Congress is the corruption and outdated ideologies that they may hold. Although this may be true for some in Congress, setting a cap on the age at which people can be in Congress will not eliminate this.

One concern in American politics is the influence of lobbyists, according to Brookings. Brookings said there are claims that it is common for novice legislators to fill their information and policy gaps by using lobbyists’ knowledge that advocates for special interest groups. Although there is nothing stopping older politicians from doing the same thing, setting an age limit for people in congress would not eliminate the political corruption in America, as some proponents of age limits may suggest. 

Currently, as upheld in precedents set in Supreme Court rulings, the only way to make a term limit in the United States would be to make an amendment to the Constitution, according to Constitution Annotated. In 1969 and 1995 respectively, the Supreme Court held in Powell v. McCormack and U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton that neither Congress nor the states can add to the qualifications stipulated in the Constitution for membership in Congress, according to Constitution Annotated.

According to John David Rausch, Jr. from West Texas A&M University, there have been bills attempting to implement term limits in the United States Congress since the First Congress, which was from 1789-91. The House of Representatives voted on two different versions of the bill: one that would limit a senator’s term to one year and limit them to five consecutive terms in a six-year span and another that would limit a member of the House to three consecutive terms in an eight-year span. Neither of these proposals gained any real traction at the time, and the bill died out until the mid-20th century, according to Rausch. 

Some people may argue that since there are minimum age requirements that people must meet to run for Congress, there should also be a maximum age limit. According to the Borgen Project, the minimum age requirement in the Constitution is something adapted from England, although the exact ages are different. The Borgen Project also said that James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 62 that the minimum age requirement was to give candidates enough lifetime to gain a “greater extent of information and stability of character.” 

While this makes sense for setting a minimum age limit for Congress, the same logic does not apply to adding a maximum. Some people over the age of 79—the age usually proposed with an age limit—still have incredibly sharp minds, and should not be pushed out of a career if they are still capable to do it well simply on the basis of their age. According to Brookings, removing people from Congress only on the premise of their age is a “bad return on an investment of time spent learning and mastering the ins and outs of policy making in congress.”

Overall, I do not think setting a maximum age or term limit for people in congress would resolve nearly as many problems in American politics as people may think. Removing eligible people from congress only on the basis of their age is unreasonable and limits the power of the voter by taking away a viable candidate because of an uncontrollable factor.

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