- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Change is coming to Washington, and there’s hope on the horizon that America will ensnare the big-government colossus that’s consuming our wealth and curtailing our liberty. But even after next week’s elections, the temptation of pay-to-play politics, in which career officeholders sell access to the public till, will remain a threat. It’s time to address the crisis of out-of-control government by imposing term limits on members of Congress who overstay their welcome on Capitol Hill.

Last year, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, introduced a constitutional amendment to limit senators to two consecutive six-year terms and members of the House of Representatives to three consecutive two-year terms. Tea Party activism has placed the nation on the cusp of political transformation, but victory will be short-lived unless it’s accompanied by a legal mechanism for ensuring Congress is composed of citizen legislators who don’t see public service as a lifetime meal ticket.

Each election offers the chance to limit the term of individual representatives, but the power of incumbency and related federal overspending make it imperative to curb tenure for the lawmaking class responsible for the nation’s fiscal dire straits. The Democrat-controlled Congress has collaborated with President Obama in piling up a federal public debt of more than $2.5 trillion during Mr. Obama’s first 19 months in office. According to Terence Jeffrey of CNSnews.com, that’s more than the public federal debt accumulated by all presidents from George Washington through Ronald Reagan. This government spending is rife with waste as billions flow to favored political constituencies such as unions and green technology firms.

Thomas Jefferson foresaw the temptation of treating elective office as a sinecure and advocated term limits “to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress… .” His warning went unheeded, and it wasn’t until the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951 that presidential service was restricted to two terms. Time in the legislative branch should be similarly limited.

An amendment restricting congressional officeholders would need to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate and House and three-quarters of state legislatures. Such widespread endorsement is rare in an ideologically diverse country, but Americans agree on this issue. A September Fox News poll shows that 78 percent of voters support term limits, including 84 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats and independents. The trend has mushroomed in recent years; currently, 37 states impose term limits on their governors and 15 restrict the service of their legislators.

Someday, the venality of human nature may disappear, and pigs may fly. Until then, it’s a good idea to have laws checking the power of erstwhile public servants who serve themselves above all else.