(NCFL Congress 24): Congressional Term Limits


Encourages new ideas and fresh perspectives: Term limits would ensure a regular influx of new members of Congress, bringing fresh ideas and perspectives to the legislative process. Long-serving incumbents may become entrenched in the status quo and resistant to change, while newer members may be more open to innovative solutions and willing to challenge established norms.

When legislators serve for extended periods, they may become set in their ways and less receptive to new ideas or alternative approaches to solving problems. They may develop close ties to special interest groups and lobbyists, making it harder for them to break away from established positions and consider new perspectives.

Additionally, long-serving members may become more focused on preserving their own power and influence within the institution, rather than on addressing the evolving needs and concerns of their constituents. In contrast, term limits would regularly bring in new members who are not beholden to the existing power structures and are more likely to question the status quo. These fresh faces would come from diverse backgrounds and bring a variety of life experiences, professional expertise, and ideas to the table.

They may be more willing to take risks, challenge conventional wisdom, and propose innovative solutions to complex problems.

Moreover, newer members may be more in touch with the changing needs and priorities of their constituents. As society evolves and new challenges emerge, younger and more recently elected representatives may be better equipped to understand and respond to these shifts. They may be more attuned to the concerns of younger generations, minority communities, and other groups whose voices may not be as well-represented by long-serving incumbents.

By ensuring a regular turnover in Congress, term limits could help prevent the institution from becoming stagnant and unresponsive to the needs of the American people. The infusion of new ideas and perspectives could lead to more dynamic and productive legislative debates, as well as policies that are better tailored to the realities of a rapidly changing world.

Reduces the power of special interests. Lobbyists and special interest groups often build long-term relationships with incumbent lawmakers. Term limits would disrupt these connections, making it harder for special interests to exert influence. With term limits, members of Congress would be less beholden to lobbyists and more accountable to their constituents.

As members of Congress serve for extended periods, they become increasingly reliant on the support and resources provided by these special interest groups. Lobbyists may offer campaign contributions, fundraising assistance, or other forms of support to help incumbents maintain their position in office.

In exchange, lawmakers may be more inclined to prioritize the interests of these groups over the needs of their constituents.

This dynamic creates a “revolving door” between Congress and lobbying firms, where former lawmakers and staff members often transition into lucrative lobbying careers after leaving office. The prospect of future employment in the lobbying industry can influence the decisions of members of Congress while they are still in office, as they may be hesitant to take positions that could jeopardize their post-congressional career prospects.

Term limits could help disrupt this cycle of influence by limiting the amount of time that lawmakers can serve in Congress.

With shorter tenures, members of Congress would have less opportunity to develop deep, long-lasting ties with lobbyists and special interest groups. This could make it more difficult for these groups to exert undue influence over the legislative process.

Moreover, term limits could shift the incentives for members of Congress, making them more accountable to their constituents rather than beholden to special interests. Knowing that their time in office is limited, lawmakers may be more likely to prioritize the needs and concerns of the people they represent, rather than focusing on maintaining relationships with lobbyists and donors. This increased accountability could lead to a more responsive and representative government, as members of Congress would be motivated to deliver results for their constituents in order to secure their legacy and support for future endeavors. 

As noted by the organization U.S. Term Limits, “Term limits ensure that Congress will be more responsible toward their constituents because they will soon be constituents themselves”.While term limits are not a complete solution to the problem of special interest influence in politics, they could be an important tool in reducing the power of lobbyists and making Congress more accountable to the people. By disrupting the long-term relationships between lawmakers and special interests, term limits could help create a more transparent, responsive, and representative government that better serves the needs of all Americans.

Mitigates corruption and abuse of power. The longer politicians serve in office, the more likely they may be to engage in corrupt practices or abuse their power. Term limits could help prevent politicians from becoming too powerful or too entangled with special interests. Knowing their time in office is limited, members of Congress may be less tempted to engage in corruption.

As politicians spend more time in office, they can become increasingly powerful and influential. This power can lead to a sense of entitlement and a belief that they are above the law. Long-serving members of Congress may feel more comfortable engaging in unethical or illegal activities, such as accepting bribes or using their position for personal gain, because they believe they are unlikely to face consequences.

Moreover, the longer politicians serve, the more opportunities they have to develop close relationships with lobbyists and special interest groups. These groups often seek to influence policy decisions by offering campaign contributions, gifts, or other forms of support to members of Congress. Over time, politicians may become more beholden to these special interests, prioritizing their needs over those of their constituents.Term limits could help address these issues by limiting the amount of time politicians can serve in office. Knowing that their time in power is finite, members of Congress may be less likely to engage in corrupt practices or abuse their position.

They may feel more accountable to their constituents and less tempted to prioritize the interests of lobbyists and special interest groups.Furthermore, term limits could help prevent politicians from becoming too powerful or entrenched in the political system. By ensuring regular turnover in Congress, term limits could make it more difficult for individual members to accumulate excessive influence or control over the legislative process. This could help maintain a balance of power and prevent any one politician or group from becoming too dominant.However, it is important to note that term limits are not a panacea for corruption and abuse of power.

While they may help mitigate some of these issues, they are not a complete solution. Other reforms, such as stricter ethics rules, increased transparency, and stronger oversight mechanisms, may also be necessary to fully address the problem of corruption in politics.Additionally, some argue that term limits could have unintended consequences, such as reducing institutional knowledge and expertise in Congress. Long-serving members often have a deep understanding of complex policy issues and the legislative process, which could be lost if they are forced to leave office.

Despite these potential drawbacks, the argument that term limits could help reduce corruption and abuse of power remains compelling. By limiting the amount of time politicians can serve in office, term limits could help ensure that members of Congress remain accountable to their constituents and less beholden to special interests. While not a complete solution, term

Increases electoral competition. Incumbents have significant advantages in elections, making it difficult for challengers to compete. Term limits would create more open-seat races, encouraging more candidates to run and giving voters more choices. This could lead to more competitive elections and make Congress more responsive to the will of the people.

Promotes accountability. With term limits, members of Congress would need to be more responsive to their constituents, knowing they cannot rely on the advantages of long-term incumbency. They may be more likely to follow through on their campaign promises and work hard to represent the interests of their district or state.

Reduces fundraising pressure. Members of Congress spend a significant amount of time fundraising for their re-election campaigns. Term limits could reduce the pressure to constantly raise money, allowing members to focus more on legislating and serving their constituents.

This fundraising burden has become a significant distraction from their primary responsibilities as legislators and representatives of their constituents.Studies have shown that members of Congress spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in fundraising activities. According to a report by Issue One, an organization dedicated to political reform, members of the House of Representatives raised an average of $2,315 per day during the first quarter of the 2024 election cycle. S

Similarly, during the 2021-2022 election cycle, the average member of the House raised around $2,700 per day. This relentless fundraising pressure is often described as a “treadmill” that members of Congress must constantly run on to maintain their position.The time spent fundraising comes at the expense of other essential duties. As reported by CBS News, some members of Congress spend up to four hours a day making fundraising calls, time that could otherwise be spent on legislative work or engaging with constituents. 

Former Congressman Steve Israel revealed that he spent over 4,000 hours on the phone soliciting donations during his time in office. This highlights the opportunity cost of the current fundraising system, which diverts attention away from the core responsibilities of elected officials.Implementing term limits could help to break this cycle. By limiting the number of terms a member can serve, the pressure to constantly raise money for re-election would be reduced. Knowing that their time in office is finite, members of Congress may be less inclined to prioritize fundraising over their legislative duties. As noted by Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of U.S. Term Limits, “Term limits help fix the problem of incumbents indefinitely raising money for their next campaignWith less time spent on the fundraising treadmill, members of Congress could dedicate more of their energy to crafting legislation, conducting oversight, and serving the needs of their constituents.

Moreover, term limits could help to level the playing field for challengers, who often struggle to compete with the fundraising advantages of incumbents. As argued by the Forward Party, “The power of unending incumbency often keeps Congress from reflecting the evolving social, technical, and cultural reality of our country. By creating more open-seat races and reducing the entrenched power of incumbents, term limits could encourage a more diverse range of candidates to run for office, bringing fresh perspectives and ideas to Congress.

Increases diversity in Congress. Term limits could help create opportunities for underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities, to serve in Congress. With more open-seat races, there may be more chances for a diverse range of candidates to run and win election.

By implementing term limits, there would be more open-seat races, as incumbents would be forced to step down after a certain number of terms. This could encourage a more diverse range of candidates to run for office, as they would not have to face the daunting task of challenging a well-established incumbent.

Additionally, term limits could help break down some of the barriers that have historically prevented underrepresented groups from running for office, such as the need for extensive political connections or access to large amounts of campaign funding.Moreover, term limits could help create a more level playing field for all candidates, regardless of their background or experience.

With more open-seat races, candidates would have to compete on the basis of their ideas, qualifications, and ability to connect with voters, rather than relying on the inherent advantages of incumbency. This could lead to a more diverse and representative Congress, as candidates from a wider range of backgrounds and experiences would have a better chance of being elected.


Increased influence of lobbyists and bureaucrats. With term limits, legislators would become more reliant on lobbyists and unelected bureaucrats for information and policy guidance. This could increase the influence of special interests and shift power away from elected representatives.

The increased influence of lobbyists and bureaucrats due to term limits is considered problematic for several reasons.

First, lobbyists and special interest groups with significant resources can gain disproportionate access to inexperienced lawmakers, using their expertise, connections, and campaign contributions to shape policy agendas and decisions in ways that benefit their narrow interests rather than the broader public good.

Second, while elected representatives are accountable to voters, lobbyists and bureaucrats are not directly answerable to the public, which can undermine democratic accountability and responsiveness if term-limited legislators become overly reliant on these unelected actors for policy guidance.

Moreover, with high turnover due to term limits, special interests and bureaucrats can “capture” the policy process by cultivating relationships with new legislators and staff, becoming the primary source of information and expertise, and controlling the narrative to steer policy outcomes in their preferred direction. This can lead to short-term thinking, as lobbyists and special interests often focus on short-term gains rather than long-term public interests, resulting in myopic decision-making and neglect of important long-term challenges. Term limits may also exacerbate the “revolving door” phenomenon, where lawmakers and staff move between government and lobbying firms.

The prospect of lucrative post-Congress careers in lobbying can influence the behavior of term-limited members, making them more receptive to special interest demands. Furthermore, if Congress becomes overly dependent on lobbyists and bureaucrats, it can erode the legislature’s institutional capacity and autonomy, tilting the balance of power towards the executive branch and unelected administrators, and undermining the separation of powers and Congress’s ability to assert itself in policymaking. Lastly, the perception that special interests and unelected officials wield undue influence can fuel public cynicism and distrust in government, leading to disengagement, lower voter turnout, and a weakening of democratic legitimacy. While proponents argue that term limits are necessary to curb the influence of entrenched incumbents beholden to special interests, critics warn that they may inadvertently empower lobbyists and bureaucrats, as inexperienced lawmakers with limited time horizons may be more susceptible to outside pressure and less capable of independent policymaking.

Addressing the influence of special interests may require other reforms, such as stricter lobbying regulations, campaign finance limits, and measures to strengthen Congress’s internal policy capacity. Ultimately, the goal should be to ensure that elected representatives have the expertise, resources, and incentives to make decisions in the public interest, even in the face of organized pressure from narrow constituencies.

Loss of institutional knowledge and experience. Long-serving members of Congress develop deep policy expertise, understand legislative procedures, and have institutional memory. Term limits would result in a constant influx of inexperienced legislators who may struggle to navigate complex policy issues and the lawmaking process effectively.

This expertise is important in many areas.

  1. Policymaking complexity: Modern legislatures deal with highly complex, technical policy issues ranging from healthcare and environmental regulation to cybersecurity and financial markets. Crafting sound policies requires deep understanding of these domains. Experienced lawmakers have often developed substantive expertise that allows them to draft better legislation and conduct more effective oversight.
  2. Institutional knowledge: Senior members have accumulated knowledge about legislative procedures, rules, and norms. They understand how to navigate the lawmaking process, build coalitions, and negotiate compromises. This procedural expertise helps Congress operate more efficiently and get things done.
  3. Oversight capacity: Congress is responsible for overseeing the executive branch. Effective oversight requires familiarity with agencies, programs, and past policy initiatives. Long-serving members tend to be better equipped to scrutinize government actions and hold the administration accountable.
  4. Mentoring new members: Veteran lawmakers can mentor and guide new members, passing on valuable skills and knowledge. This intergenerational transfer of expertise helps maintain institutional memory and ensures that Congress can continue to function effectively over time.
  5. Resisting lobbyist influence: Experienced members are often less reliant on outside lobbyists and special interests for policy information. In contrast, term-limited legislators may be more susceptible to influence from these groups, as they lack their own independent expertise.
  6. Crafting bipartisan solutions: Building trust and forging compromise across party lines takes time. Senior lawmakers who have developed working relationships with colleagues are often better positioned to craft bipartisan legislation and reach consensus on divisive issues.

Lame duck representatives. Term-limited members in their final term may feel less accountable to voters since they cannot run for re-election. This could lead to representatives taking unpopular stances or catering to special interests as they look ahead to their post-Congress careers.

 Here’s a more detailed explanation of this concern.

  1. Reduced accountability: In their final term, representatives no longer face the threat of electoral consequences for their actions. They don’t need to worry about maintaining voter support or securing campaign contributions for a re-election bid. This lack of accountability can lead to representatives deviating from the preferences of their constituents.
  2. Unpopular stances: Freed from the need to appeal to voters, term-limited representatives may be more likely to take unpopular positions on controversial issues. They may support legislation that benefits narrow special interests rather than the broader public good, knowing they won’t face electoral repercussions.
  3. Catering to future employers: As they approach the end of their congressional careers, term-limited representatives may be thinking about their post-Congress employment prospects. This could lead them to cater to the interests of potential future employers, such as lobbying firms or industries that they hope to work for after leaving office.
  4. Lame duck sessions: The reduced accountability of term-limited members can be especially problematic during “lame duck” sessions of Congress that occur after an election but before newly elected members take office. During these sessions, outgoing members who have already lost re-election or are retiring may be more likely to engage in “last minute” policymaking that goes against the will of voters.
  5. Revolving door: Term limits can exacerbate the “revolving door” phenomenon, where former members of Congress go on to work as lobbyists or in industries they previously regulated. The prospect of lucrative post-Congress careers in lobbying can influence the behavior of term-limited members in their final term, making them more receptive to special interest demands.

Critics argue that these potential negative effects undermine the very purpose of term limits, which is to promote accountability and prevent elected officials from becoming beholden to special interests. Instead of being more responsive to voters, term-limited representatives may actually become less accountable and more likely to prioritize their own interests over those of their constituents.

Reduced incentives for bipartisanship and compromise.  Members may have less motivation to build relationships and work collaboratively across the aisle if they know their time in Congress is limited. This could exacerbate polarization and gridlock.

Unforeseen impacts on representation. Term limits could have unintended effects on the diversity of Congress. For example, they may disadvantage women and minorities who often take longer to rise through political ranks and build the seniority needed for leadership roles and key committee assignments.

Term limits could have unintended negative effects on the diversity of Congress, particularly in terms of the representation of women and minorities in leadership roles and key committee assignments. This is because women and minorities often face additional barriers and challenges in rising through the political ranks, and may take longer to build the seniority and influence needed to secure these powerful positions. The seniority system in Congress plays a significant role in determining committee assignments and leadership roles.

Members who have served longer are generally given priority for key positions like committee chairs and party leadership posts. However, women and minorities are underrepresented in Congress, and on average have not served as many terms as their white male counterparts.

For example, as of the 118th Congress, only 28% of members are women and just 23% are racial or ethnic minorities. The first woman was not elected to the Senate until 1932, and the first Black woman not until 1993. This means that even as more women and minorities are elected to Congress, they are starting with less seniority than many of their colleagues.

If term limits were implemented, longstanding members of Congress would be forced out, including many senior women and minority representatives who have worked their way up the ladder over time. The loss of these experienced legislators could diminish the overall diversity of leadership in Congress.Additionally, research suggests that women and minorities face unique electoral hurdles that can make it harder to get elected in the first place, such as fundraising challenges, bias from voters and party officials, and barriers to entry in politics. 

With term limits creating more open seat races, women and minority candidates may struggle to break through at the same rates as white men, further limiting their opportunities to gain seniority.

Some experts argue that shorter term limits in particular could worsen this problem, as they would create more frequent turnover and less time for underrepresented groups to build influence before being term-limited out. A few studies have found that longer term limits of 12 years or more may actually increase legislative diversity, but the evidence is mixed.

Failure to address underlying systemic issues. Term limits do not necessarily solve problems like the influence of money in politics, polarization, and public dissatisfaction with government. Reforms to campaign finance, redistricting, and congressional procedures may be more effective ways to improve the functioning of Congress.

Term limits are often proposed as a solution to various problems plaguing the U.S. Congress, such as the outsized influence of money in politics, increasing polarization, and growing public dissatisfaction with government. However, while term limits may have some benefits, they do not necessarily address these underlying issues and may even exacerbate them in some cases. Instead, more targeted reforms to campaign finance laws, redistricting processes, and congressional procedures could prove more effective in improving the functioning of Congress and restoring public trust in the institution.

One major issue that term limits fail to address is the role of money in politics. Even with term limits in place, elected officials would still need to raise significant funds to run competitive campaigns, especially in the era of super PACs and unlimited political spending by wealthy individuals and special interest groups. This constant need for fundraising can lead politicians to prioritize the interests of donors over those of their constituents, regardless of how long they serve in office. To truly reduce the influence of money in politics, Congress would need to enact comprehensive campaign finance reforms, such as stricter contribution limits, increased transparency requirements, and a system of public financing for elections.Another problem that term limits do not solve is the increasing polarization and partisanship in Congress.

In fact, term limits could potentially worsen polarization by creating a more inexperienced and ideologically extreme legislature. With a constant influx of new members, there would be less incentive for lawmakers to build relationships and forge compromises across party lines. Moreover, term-limited representatives may be more beholden to their party’s base and less willing to moderate their positions or engage in bipartisan cooperation. To address polarization, reforms to the redistricting process, such as independent redistricting commissions, could help create more competitive and ideologically diverse districts that encourage politicians to appeal to a broader range of voters.Term limits also fail to address the public’s growing dissatisfaction with government and the perceived lack of responsiveness to their concerns.

While term limits may bring new faces to Congress, they do not guarantee that these new representatives will be any more effective at solving problems or delivering results for their constituents. In fact, the constant turnover and loss of institutional knowledge caused by term limits could make it harder for Congress to tackle complex, long-term challenges and could lead to more gridlock and dysfunction. 

To improve public satisfaction with government, reforms to congressional procedures, such as reducing the use of the filibuster, streamlining the committee system, and increasing transparency and accountability, could help make Congress more efficient, effective, and responsive to the needs of the American people.Ultimately, while term limits may have some appealing aspects, they are not a panacea for the problems facing Congress. The influence of money in politics, increasing polarization, and public dissatisfaction with government are complex, multifaceted issues that require a more comprehensive and targeted approach. 

By focusing on reforms to campaign finance laws, redistricting processes, and congressional procedures, policymakers can work to create a more responsive, accountable, and effective legislature that better serves the interests of the American people. While term limits may be a part of this broader reform agenda, they should not be seen as a substitute for more substantive changes to the way Congress operates.

Constitutional amendments bad. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution now could be problematic and potentially lead to a runaway convention for several reasons. First, the current political climate in the United States is highly polarized and partisan. With the two major parties so divided, it would be extremely difficult to get the broad bipartisan support needed to properly amend the Constitution through the normal process. Amendments require a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. 

In today’s environment, that level of consensus seems nearly impossible.The alternative method of amending the Constitution, a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states, carries even greater risks. The Constitution provides no guidance on the rules, procedures, or limits of such a convention. Legal scholars warn this could result in a “runaway convention” where delegates disregard any constraints and propose radical changes to the Constitution itself.

There are well-funded conservative groups, like the Convention of States organization, aggressively pushing for a convention. Their goal is to dramatically limit federal power and enshrine conservative policies into the Constitution. But once convened, a convention would be an unpredictable Pandora’s box. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia warned, “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it?”

Delegates to a convention could potentially rewrite any part of the Constitution, putting fundamental rights and bedrock democratic principles at risk. Some worry a convention could curtail protections in the Bill of Rights, undermine progress on issues like climate change and civil rights, or otherwise “put Americans’ constitutional rights up for grabs.”There is also the risk that a small minority of states could block popular amendments at a convention or through the ratification process. Ratification requires approval of 38 states – meaning only 13 states could thwart an amendment, even if it had overwhelming support. This gives disproportionate power to a few states.