The Time for Federal Term Limits is Now!

Federal Term Limits are the only way to rein in spending, control corruption in Washington

capitol building

By Dale Glading | The Save Jersey Blog

Daniel Inouye was a decorated war hero who lost his right arm in 1945 while leading an assault on a heavily-defended ridge near San Terenzo in Tuscany, Italy. As a result of his battlefield heroics, Inouye was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart. Inouye also received the Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton.

This week, Daniel Inouye’s flag-draped coffin has been lying in state in the Capitol rotunda and deservedly so. True American heroes like him are few and far between.

Which makes it that much harder for me to say that Inouye served entirely too long in Congress.

First elected to the House when Hawaii became a state in 1959, Inouye was elevated to the Senate in 1962 where he remained for 49 years, 11 months and 15 days. When he died this week at age 88, Mr. Inouye was the second longest-serving senator in U.S. history.

Former senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia holds that unfortunate record at almost 51 and one half years – after having served in the House of Representatives for another six. That means that Byrd was sheltered inside the Washington beltway for almost six full decades.

Democrats aren’t the only ones to take advantage of the old-boy network in Washington. Republican Strom Thurmond of South Carolina served in the Senate for more than 47 years until he finally retired at age 100.

Of course, Thurmond started out as a Democrat who set the record for the longest filibuster when he took to the Senate floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He then changed parties in 1964, the same year that Robert Byrd filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

See a connection there?

Simply put, spending multiple decades in the U.S. Senate isolates a man or woman from reality as well as from their constituents. They wield unhealthy amounts of power and become accountable only to themselves.

If you don’t believe me, try to find a road or a bridge in West Virginia or South Carolina that isn’t named for Byrd or Thurmond.

The title of longest-serving senator now falls to Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who has represented the Green Mountain State since 1975 when Gerald Ford was president.

What is especially troubling about such congressional longevity is that upon Inouye’s death, Leahy was sworn in as the Senate President pro tempore. It is a largely ceremonial post granted to the longest-serving member of the majority party, but one with a significant caveat.

After the Vice President and the Speaker of the House, the President pro tempore of the Senate is the third in line of presidential succession.

That means that if something had happened to President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker Dennis Hastert in 2001, Strom Thurmond would have become the 44th president of the United States – at age 98.

And if a similar tragedy had occurred in 2010, 92-year old Robert Byrd would have ascended to the presidency.

If two four-year terms were enough for George Washington, why are unlimited six-year terms allowed for United States senators? And if the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids anyone from being elected president more than twice, why do we allow senators to be elected not only ad nauseam, but also until they are too old and frail to adequately serve?

I worked for 11 years in a retirement community in New Jersey – currently represented by octogenarian Frank Lautenberg – and now live in an area of Florida with a large number of retirees. But as much as I honor and respect my elders for their service and collective wisdom, I have yet to meet a 98-year old who was up to the physical demands of serving as America’s commander-in-chief.

Just like Congress did in 1947 when it passed the 22nd Amendment and the states did in 1951 when they ratified the same provision, it is time to enact term limits for all federal office holders.

If for no other reason than to save them from themselves.