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Guest Opinion

The U.S. Congress needs term limits


Until Franklin Roosevelt, no president had served more than two elected terms in office. It was a tradition established by George Washington. Two presidents prior to FDR had sought to do so — Ulysses S. Grant and Woodrow Wilson — and had failed in even securing their party’s nomination.

Roosevelt, citing his importance in World War II, ran for an unprecedented third term and then a fourth term even though he was ill (he died 82 days into his fourth term).

After his presidency, there were widespread calls to establish a constitutional amendment to set term limits for the President. Roosevelt’s successor — Harry Truman, an advocate of term limits for both the presidency and Congress — supported this initiative.

When Congress appeared reluctant to pass an amendment setting terms for the presidency, the states started to act by calling for a constitutional amendment.

As the states were nearing the 2/3 majority needed to force it to act, Congress decided it was in its best interest to address the issue. This was the genesis of the 22nd Amendment which was ratified on Feb. 27, 1951.

Harry Truman, who was president when the 22nd Amendment was ratified, was grandfathered in, so the amendment did not affect him. However, he believed two terms were enough for any occupant in the White House.

Since he had served all but 82 days of Roosevelt’s fourth term plus one full term, Truman believed that he had essentially served two terms, and opted not to run again in 1952. Truman hoped that Congress would further act on term limits for itself after the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951 but it has failed to do so.

On Tuesday of this week — Feb. 27 — we celebrated National Term Limits Day. We do this to raise awareness of today’s most popular and bipartisan issue — Congressional term limits.

A recent Pew Research poll showed 87% of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support congressional term limits. Yet despite this overwhelming support, Congress refuses to act.

Recently, House Joint Resolution 11 by Rep. Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican, netted more than 100 cosponsors. It would have set the number of terms for the U.S. House of Representatives at three, or six years. In the U.S. Senate, the limit would be two terms, or 12 years.

It was defeated by a committee vote of 19-17.

So, if Congress won’t pass term limits, what can be done?

Just as with the debate over presidential terms, the states can take the initiative, calling for a convention to adopt a congressional term limits amendment. When enough states request a convention to add a congressional term limits amendment to the Constitution, Congress is bypassed, and the amendment can be proposed by the states for ratification.

Or Congress might see what is happening and act as it did with the 22nd Amendment.

Six states — Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and West Virginia — have called for a limited convention to propose a congressional term limits amendment to the Constitution.

Here in Pennsylvania, State Sen. Jarrett Coleman, a Republican whose district includes a portion of Upper Bucks County, has filed Senate Resolution 225. This resolution would have Pennsylvania join other states in calling for a convention for proposing a congressional term limits amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In addition, PA State House Rep. Jared Solomon, a Philadelphia Democrat, has signed on as sponsor of House Resolution 183, its version of the term limits legislation.

In recognition of this week’s National Term Limits Day, events were held throughout the nation to bring attention to the need for congressional term limits.

If term limits are good enough for the president, why not for Congress? Let’s finish the job and get term limits for Congress.

John Eichelberger and Andy Dinniman are former PA State Senators. Eichelberger, a Republican, represented the 30th Senatorial District, which covers Blair, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata and Mifflin counties from 2007 to 2018. Dinniman, a Democrat, represented the 19th Senatorial District, which includes part of Chester County from June 2006 until 2020. They, are now the state co-chairs for U.S. Term Limits.

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