The Constitutional work-around for term limits
Published 11:22 am Tuesday, May 1, 2018
By Michael Shannon
I’ve always wondered why the National Education Association (NEA) and the country club conservatives in the Republican House and Senate leadership aren’t allies, instead of enemies. Both organizations use the same tired talking points to defend inert members from the forces of accountability.
When education reformers urge legislative bodies to adopt merit pay for teachers and thereby reward the best teachers with the most money, the NEA counters that experience is crucial and paying teachers according to seniority rewards that excellent system.
In the same fashion, when congressional reformers urge House and Senate leadership to adopt an amendment adding term limits to the Constitution, leadership rejects the proposal out of hand, claiming seniority is crucial to keeping Congress the paragon of competence it is today.
It’s no accident that education, Congress and penal institutions all grant more privileges based solely on how much time you’ve served.
Congressman Francis Rooney (R-Doomed) wants to remove Congress from that list. Rooney has formulated a brilliant method of implementing term limits that does not require an amendment to the Constitution. Rooney’s Thomas Jefferson Public Service Act would place no limits on how long a member could warm a seat in Congress — that requires an amendment — instead, Rooney would reduce a member’s paycheck to $1 per year after they served six terms in the House or two terms in the Senate.
My wife is skeptical. She believes after 12 years our ‘public servants’ have already made themselves millionaires, so the $173,999.00 pay cut won’t bother them. She is not alone.
FedSmith.com downplays Rooney’s bill, too, — most Congressmen make a career out of remaining in Congress (often moving on to the Senate). Many become millionaires within a few years after their election and, of course, they also receive a pension under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS).
What both overlook is the loss of status if Rooney’s bill passes.
When Newt Gingrich was running the show, Republicans imposed term limits on committee chairmen. In the House and Senate, Republicans are limited to six years as the jefe of any committee.
At the end of their term as chairman these members must surrender the gavel, without any reduction in salary or benefits. Many retiring chairmen look upon that gavel as the closest thing to Thor’s Hammer they will ever wield. Giving it up is such a personal Ragnarok that they retire from Congress rather than revert to being hammerless rank-and-file members regardless of their salary.
I’m thinking not getting an envelope on payday would have the same effect. It’s one thing to talk about being a ‘public servant.’ Becoming one and working for free is something entirely different.
I’m willing to grasp at Rooney’s straw if there’s even a slim chance of success.
Rooney is so serious he’s prepared to become very unpopular with his colleagues. In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, Rooney correctly termed arguments against term limits legislation as ‘elitist paternalism.’ He already has seven co-sponsors for his bill and he intends to put the heat on nominal term limits supporters.
“There are 90 co-sponsors on term limit by [constitutional] amendment bills and there’s something called the ‘Term Limit Caucus.’ Let’s see what they want to do,” Rooney explained. This is where Rooney drops off Christmas card lists.
Co-sponsoring term limits constitutional amendment is exactly like promising to repeal Obamacare. It’s showy and consequence-free.
The chance of the amendment coming up for a vote is exactly the same as the chance of Donald Trump being named Man of the Year by La Raza. If the unthinkable happens — see Obamacare vote — and term limits comes to the floor, co-sponsors will cheerfully betray their voters, just as Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins did.
Rooney’s bill will put these poseurs on the spot. There are 26 members of the Term Limits Caucus, yet only two are co-sponsoring his bill. Rooney should have 31 co-sponsors, and that’s before he goes after the amendment popinjays.
Baier went to Curator of the Senate Mitch McConnell for a comment on Rooney’s bill. In a voice dripping with disdain, McConnell gargled, “I would say we have term limits now, they’re called elections, and it will not be on the agenda in the Senate.”
True, and the current system has given us McConnell as an example of what term limits would prevent.
Rooney’s only misstep so far came in his announcement. He quoted former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (R-Great American) who said Americans “are frustrated with the federal government.” True again. But Coburn is no longer in the Senate, because he imposed term limits on himself.
I fear the time-servers Rooney is trying to persuade will hear that name and ask themselves, “yeah, and when was the last time Coburn was on TV?”
Michael Shannon is a commentator and public relations consultant, and is the author of “A Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.