Dispelling the Myths That Surround Term Limits

LAST November, the American people demanded a change in Washington. Much of that change is embodied in the Republican Contract With America, including congressional term limits.

The House of Representatives will soon debate and vote on several different versions of term limits, including legislation I introduced with Rep. Bob Inglis (R) of South Carolina. Our legislation, which would limit House members to three terms and senators to two terms enjoys more public support than any of the others.

Many in Washington view term limits as a threat to their grip on power, and are working to discredit them. In the process, they have promulgated term-limits myths, some of which have become commonly accepted:

Myth #1: Term limits hinder the public's right to choose the candidate of their choice.

Reality: This myth assumes that voters always have a choice at the ballot box. However, the built-in advantages of incumbency cause many qualified challengers to never run for office. Term limits enhance democracy by expanding both voter choice and selection.

Myth #2: Term limits would remove good legislators from office.

Reality: It is incorrect to assume that the best-qualified citizens already hold elective office. The public would be better served by the continual infusion of fresh and motivated people. Term limits would encourage well-qualified elected officials who have already served to seek other opportunities in public service, often a higher office, or return to private-sector careers.

Myth #3: Term limits would lead to special-interest domination of Congress as experienced lobbyists would exert great influence over novice legislators.

Reality: The opposite is true. Term limits would break the lock that special interests now have on Congress. With the substantial financial backing given to incumbents and powerful committee chairmen, many lobbyists are able to act as brokers on Capitol Hill. Term limits would significantly diminish lobbyists' power.

Myth #4: Term limits would place too much power in the hands of nonelected congressional staffers.

Reality: Most newly elected members of Congress go to Washington with ambitious agendas driven by personal convictions and the interests of the district from which they were elected. Naturally, new members want to hire the most-qualified staffers to help implement their agenda. In such cases, it is the agenda of the representative, not the staff, that is advanced.

Myth #5: The 1994 election proves that term limits are not necessary.

Reality: Despite the recent election, the success rate of House members running for reelection remains virtually unchanged. In 1994, an astounding 91 percent of House incumbents were reelected. By comparison, 93 percent of House incumbents were reelected in 1992.

The goal of term limits is to create a citizen legislature, an objective overwhelmingly supported by the American people. Twenty-two states have placed term limits on their federal representatives, and a recent survey shows that 3 out of 4 Americans support limits. Limiting congressional terms is the key to true reform.

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