Are Term Limits Needed Now?

By Schnepper, Jeff A. | USA TODAY, September 1994 | Go to article overview

Are Term Limits Needed Now?


Schnepper, Jeff A., USA TODAY


THE FEDERAL DEBT exceeds three trillion dollars, a number beyond the comprehension of the average individual. To put it into perspective, each American now owes more than $12,000 in government debt. The debt would pay three weeks salary (40 hours at minimum wage) to every person in the world or three years tuition for every person under 18 in the U.S.; cover a six-week vacation in French Polynesia (Club Med) for every person over 18 in the U.S.; or finance three in-ground concrete swimming pools for every homeowner in the U.S.

Moreover, the debt keeps getting bigger. In 1993, the national Taxpayer Union Foundation reported in an update of its Congressional Budget Tracking System that, despite anti-spending rhetoric, four out of five bills introduced into the 103rd Congress would increase Federal outlays.

Gross mismanagement

If every bill then current before Congress had become law, spending would have increased $14.37 for every dollar of cuts. The bureaucratic watchdogs spend money as if it were not theirs; they're right--it's ours! In 1993, Citizens Against Government Waste released a list of 45 Federal agencies that it charged were "grossly mismanaged" and threaten to cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. Among the examples in the report: The Health Care Financing Administrator has no system to monitor contractor activities and overbilling, putting $21,000,000,000 in danger of being squandered; student loan defaults increased to $3,600,000,000 in 1991 from $200,000,000 in 1981 due to lack of reliable data on ineligible borrowers; and, despite losing more than $20,000,000,000 between 1988 and 1989 due to high rates of delinquency and default, the Farmer's Home Administration has approved new loans to farmers who already have defaulted, putting another $17,900,000,000 at risk.

American voters are frustrated with the failure of the government to deal adequately with such basic problems as the economic slowdown, runaway health care costs, and budget deficits. The strong support for former presidential candidate Ross Perot, despite obvious drawbacks, exemplified the nation's disgust with its current leadership--or lack thereof. A major movement in response is the issue of whether there should be limits on the number of terms that can be served by members of Congress and state legislatures.

According to the National Council of State Legislatures, term limits in various forms have been introduced as bills in 45 states. California, Colorado, and Oklahoma already have decided to restrict at least some legislative terms. Arguments in favor of such action include the following political wish list:

* Term limits will enhance democracy by ensuring more competitive elections and greater voter choice.

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