Impeachment demonstrates dire need for term limits

Impeachment demonstrates dire need for term limits
© Greg Nash

As the U.S. Senate concluded its second impeachment trial of a U.S. president in the past two decades, one thing is extremely apparent: America needs congressional term limits as soon as possible.

One might be surprised to know that many of the characters in the impeachment of President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE were also roaming the halls of Congress 21 years ago during the impeachment of President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFree Roger Stone Davis: Taking another look at Bernie Sanders Juan Williams: Don't count Biden out MORE.

In fact, 84 of the 535 members of Congress who are currently involved in the Trump impeachment also cast votes in the Clinton impeachment, which occurred before the turn of the millennium and the advent of smart phones.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even more astonishing, one congressman – Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungImpeachment demonstrates dire need for term limits House approves pro-union labor bill House GOP introduces bill to secure voter registration systems against foreign hacking MORE (R-Alaska) – was in the U.S. House when President Nixon’s impeachment inquiry began, which took place 47 years ago. Rep. Young has been in Congress much longer than I (and millions of other Americans) have been alive.

The scourge of career politicianism is worse in the Senate than the House. Of the 100 senators who decided Trump’s fate, 28 also cast votes in the Clinton impeachment. In fairness, some of the current senators who are sitting through the Trump impeachment were members of the U.S. House during Clinton’s impeachment. 

As if this were not reason enough to raise a few million eyebrows, presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE was a senator during both Nixon’s impeachment inquiry and Clinton’s impeachment. Biden, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1973 at the age of 30, served in the upper chamber for a whopping 36 years.

He then served as vice president for eight years. And in 2020, after a lifetime in public service, his next act was to run for president — of course.

Does Biden (and most other politicians for that matter) understand that there are ways to earn a living other than being a career politician? Well, maybe for Biden (and so many others) it makes perfect sense to seek everlasting reelection. For most members of the House and Senate, maintaining their political power is a win-win for them, even if it is a lose-lose for America.

Consider this: On average, being a member of congress is far better for one’s bank account than not being a member of congress. According to Ballotpedia, “The median American citizen saw his or her household net worth decrease from 2004 to 2012 by an annual rate of -0.94 percent, while members of Congress experienced a median annual increase of 1.55 percent. Congress saw a total increase of $316.5 million in assets held by all members in the study.”

ADVERTISEMENT

On an annual basis, the numbers are even more stunning. For instance, from 2004 to 2012, “The average member saw his or her net worth increase by an average of 15.4 percent per year.” Even more shocking, “As compared to the yearly average gains, the total average gains percentage change looks at the total change between the first year data is available for each member and the 2012 data. … The average change in net worth for the members in this study was 72.6 percent.”

The numbers are even more stark when compared to average Americans. Consider this: “Between 2004-2012, the average American household saw an inflation-adjusted slight increase of assets from $204,957 in 2004 to $264,963 in 2012. This was an inflation-adjusted annual percentage change of 3.7 percent from 2004 to 2012.”

On the other hand, as stated above, members of congress experienced a very healthy 15.4 percent rate of growth. Once again, for average hard-working Americans it was 3.7 percent. For members of Congress it was 15.4 percent. Shouldn’t these numbers be the opposite? Members of Congress are public servants, right? They are not supposed to be plundering public swindlers.

Unfortunately, the siren call to Congress is most beneficial to its newest members. Before your jaw needs to be picked up from the floor, ponder this: “From 2009 to 2012, the average net worth change of a freshman member of the 112th Congress in three years was 50 percent.”

Sadly, the statistics show just one side of the ample benefits bestowed upon members of Congress. Of course, after they leave office, the lobbying industry rolls out the red carpet for them, while paying them millions more to ensure favored legislation gets passed in a timely fashion. Who better than an ex-member of Congress to make sure any pesky laws do not get passed that would infringe upon the bottom line. They also get posh pensions for life, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, among many other benefits.

The time for congressional term limits is way past due. In 1788, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I apprehend that the total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of president and senator will end in abuse. But my confidence is that there will for a long time be virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses.”

Maybe it is time we heed Jefferson’s call for “rotation in office.” After all, we amended the Constitution to prevent a perpetual president after President Franklin D. Roosevelt disregarded George Washington’s two-term precedent, and was elected four times. We should hold members of Congress to a similar bar.

Chris Talgo (ctalgo@heartland.org) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.