Editorial: Whatever happened to term limits?

Jan. 18, 2014 @ 07:37 PM

If we can’t get many people in Congress to voluntarily leave office, and since even the party that once championed firm term limits now seems to have forgotten about the issue, maybe there should at least be a mandatory retirement age.

That was among the first things that came to mind on hearing the news last week that U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, is going to run for her sixth term in the House of Representatives.

Foxx, 70, who lives in Watauga County, occupies one of the state’s safest Republican districts, so if she’s going to leave office it’s going to be the work either of another Republican, herself or the undertaker.

Maybe you say that 70 is too young for forced retirement from Congress, where no one does heavy lifting or works more than three days a week. Could be. After all, an ever-growing segment of our population is the 65-plus age group.

But consider Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who is 83 and ready to run for his 23rd term. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is 87 and has been a member of Congress twice as long as he was ever just a constituent. Is 87 too young? How about 92?

In 2011, the average age for a Democrat in Congress was 61 while the average Republican was 56, the Washington Post reported last year.

Long-term incumbency keeps Congress old. Once elected, almost anyone can get re-elected over and over. A big wave election, when the voters change direction and turn out an unusually high number of incumbents, can change that a bit. For instance, in 1981, after Ronald Reagan’s landslide the average age for Democrats was 51 and for Republicans 49.

The argument against term limits is that good public servants doing good work should not be turned out of office for arbitrary reasons. If the constituents represented by Foxx, Rangel, Dingell or anyone else are happy, why force a change on them?

If that’s the case, let’s get to work repealing the 22nd Amendment so presidents can be elected to more than two terms.