As the partisan divide in the House of Representatives and the Senate intensifies, is there anything that could be done to combat the intensely partisan atmosphere that has poisoned Washington over the past years? Some analysts have suggested that term limits for both branches of Congress would help not only combat the partisanship problem, but also encourage the lawmakers to work more efficiently with one another.
Under current law, both Senators and members of the House of Representatives are able to run an unlimited number of times if the people keep re-electing them. Senators have a term of six years, so that one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years.
The only branch of government that has a permanent term limit is the Executive branch via the 22nd amendment. The 22nd amendment, ratified in 1951, to the Constitution of the United States says:
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected as President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.
In the most recent poll taken, Congress has a net approval rating of 57 percent, with 16 percent approving while 74 percent disapprove. Public disapproval of Congress cuts both ways when it comes to poll numbers for either party. In another poll that was taken in September 2017, 57 percent disapprove the job the Democrats are doing, while 35 percent approve of the job they are doing. On the Republican side, 69 percent disapprove while 22 percent approve of the job Republicans are doing.
Instead of viewing the job of a politician as someone who is contributing to the solving of problems and the betterment of the community, many Americans now view the role as a long-term career opportunity, especially true if they come from ‘safe’ districts or states where one party has firm control.
The two longest-serving members of government have each exceeded fifty years in their service. Senator Robert Byrd has the record for longest serving member of the Senate serving 51 years as a Senator from West Virginia (1959-2010). While John Dingell is the longest serving in the House of Representatives, still there today despite being 91 year old and having first won his seat in 1955.
“It’s really the intensity of negativity that’s increased,” Pew political director of research, Carroll Dougherty said. The Pew Poll showed that 91 percent of Republicans view Democrats negatively, while 86 percent of Democrats view the Republican party negatively, with 55 percent viewing Republicans “very,” negatively. The supporters of both parties were found to have “generally” agreed with their party most of the time. That poll conducted by Pew was taken in 2016 and is the latest available when it comes to polling trends for the partisan divide.
The level of hatred on both sides is at record levels for both sides of the aisle, and some see the rise in Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets that allow users to have 24-hour access to politicians as part of the problem. Such 24-hour access and the partisan nature of commentary on social media has allowed users to demonize their opponents anonymously and without consequence. Levels of hatred can be seen on both sides of the aisle on these platforms. Coinciding with the Pew poll, 1 in 3 polled view their opponent as “less intelligent”, a finding that is reflected in the level of hatred in Facebook and Twitter debates.
“It’s really the rise of very negative views, that’s what is most apparent if you look at our trend,” Doherty continued.
Other indicators in the poll also showed that 70 percent of Democrats say that Republicans are “more closed minded” than other Americans, while 45 to 47 percent of Republicans said that Democrats, “stood for immorality, laziness and dishonesty.”
The tension these polls are reflecting can be seen in real time when viewing an argument on Facebook or Twitter, often devolving quickly from reasoned argument into name calling and insults.
The only recent time the issue of term limits have been debated seriously was during the Republican Party’s Contract with America in 1994. But the proposals for term limits were never made law. The issue is popular amongst Republicans and conservatives. The idea of term limits in Congress is, in my opinion, a good start towards reform of American institutions. However, practically, alone it would probably not end the partisan divide seen in both parties as the rise in social media and other such trends have contributed negatively to political debate in our country.