The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Term Limits for the Federal Government

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/11/2012 Category: Politics
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,756 times Debate No: 20345
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (2)
Votes (1)




I will be arguing that there should be term limits for people in Congress in the United States.


No ad hominem
No posting new arguments in the final round

Round = Acceptance


I don't believe that term limits should be instituted.

We do have the problem of "career" politicians, who figure out how to game the system in Washington for benefit to their constituency, along with personal benefit. This, however, should not limit members of our government who are not there for nefarious purposes. We have a system of representative government. If the majority dictates via term limits who can not represent an individual voting district, this may force a truely unqualified candidate who may not represent the interest of their voting district, but instead installed as a bandaid.

Another major problem with term limits is it removes accountability from individual politicians. If a politician knows that their time in government is severely limited, they will not look to legislate for the long term. They will want to do what looks good in their 15 minutes of fame. Whether they do a good job or not, the result will be the same- they will be removed from office after a set period.

If a politician is abusing his office, and using it for personal gain, they can be censured by their branch of Congress. If they are operating within legal and ethical boundaries, there is no problem. No members can accumulate individual power. They may gain influence, however, all members still only have one vote. 99 freshman senators can still override the will of one career senator.
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for accepting this debate.

We do have the problem of "career" politicians, who figure out how to game the system in Washington for benefit to their constituency, along with personal benefit.

There is a lot wrong with this statement but lets start with the term "career" politician.

For starters there should be no such thing as a "career" politician because politics was never meant to be a job but instead it was meant to be a service, a citizen's civic duty.

civic duty - the responsibilities of a citizen [1]

It is men's responsibility to run for office if they think they can help to better the nation, it was never meant to be a job or a career. This was demonstrated by George Washington and all the presidents up until FDR when they respectfully and dutifully stepped down after a mere two terms because more than that would have been too much. Even when he was asked to run for a third term Washington said "No." [2] This statement sent a clear message that governing was a duty and something that was only to be held for a certain amount of time.

'gaming the system'

My opponent goes on to say that while some politicians do indeed game the system that if they are the most well liked, most qualified and do not breach any ethics laws they should be free to stay. In times past I would have agreed with you however times are changing and with the new level of media pressure in the system today incumbency becomes an almost godlike status.

"In November of 2004, 401 of the 435 sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives sought reelection. Of those 401, all but five were reelected. In other words, incumbents seeking reelection to the House had a better than 99% success rate. In the U.S. Senate, only one incumbent seeking reelection was defeated. Twenty-five of twenty-six (96%) were reelected." [3]

In today's world where political affluence has reached an all time high term limits are needed. The fact that there was a 99% success rate for incumbents in 2006 flies in the face of liberty. This trend of zero rotation stifles growth and new ideas and allows politicians to become so ingrained that they are impossible to uproot.


When Enough is Enough

There is a trend of "career" and "lifelong" politicians that stay in office for decades. Robert Byrd was in office for 57 years, 176 days [4] a ridiculously long time. And in the list of the top 100 longest serving members of Congress the lowest one is 36 years. [4] So there is a growing trend of untouchable incumbents and long serving career politicians. But why is this such a bad thing?

Why Unlimited Terms are Bad

Unlimited terms promotes a system of seniority amongst its members along with a spoils system and a crony politics system. With an unlimited time in office policians will be able to garner favors, figure out how the system works and create cartels of politicians that all work together.

My opponent says that term limits will remove the good politicians that do a good job but the current system protects politicians who do a bad job. The seniority system will allow members of Congress who may or may not be qualified to sit on committees and head projects just because they have seniority. This trend of senior vs. freshmen politicians has been shown to favor the senior politicians over the freshmen; which my opponent demonstrates by using this exact terminology. The media has painted the new "freshmen" Congress as being in poor taste and inexperienced.

i. Perks
Unlimited terms allow politicians ample time to get addicted to the "perks" of office. Being able to travel around the country, the best food, free limo rides around D.C, these are all things that a man could get used to. And they do. With unlimited term limits politicians can get addicted to these perks and in doing so will begin to make their choices based on re-election instead of what's best for the country. If they want to retain the perks, the fame and the free stuff they will have to get reelected and in doing so will sell themselves out, make deals and compromises in order to secure favor for reelection. As soon as that happens politics becomes about the politician and not the country.


My opponent has stated that term limits will reduce politicians "accountability" making them make decisions that will make them look good. My answer to this is a question. Why would they do that? There would be no reason to look good for people if there are term limits in place. This argument does not make sense. If reelection is not a problem then true politicians can make decisions based on what they feel is best for the nation and not on choices to help them in reelection.

Also if there are term limits then everyone will be relatively new, no career politicians to be seen meaning that the choice on who to vote for is no longer about perks or seniority but will be based on merit and merit alone. Since there are no slick wealthy people who you are totally familiar with people will be forced to evaluate each candidate based on their views knowing that they will be making the best choices due to term limits.

Public Favor

76% of American voters approve of term limits on Congress
16% are in favor of unlimited terms
As you can see three in four American voters are in favor of term limits which is five times greater than the number in favor of unlimited terms. As you said this is a "representative democracy" so according to these numbers the people have spoken and we should have term limits for Congress.

Then why hasn't it happened?

This type of argument is exactly where unlimited terms damage the institution of government because career politicians will never bring such an issue to a vote. Why would they want to vote on their own firing? Such sensitive issues as Social Security, term limits and abortion are no longer touched in Congress because the career politicians are afraid of losing reelection.

According to this poll (and many others) we should be voting on term limits but never will because it will be blocked by senior members of Congress who will refuse to let it be heard.

Social Security is known as the "third rail" of politics [6] because no one wants to touch it because they are afraid of frying their chances at reelection.

There should be no third rails of politics!

I am running out of space so I will list the other pros below:

1. Overwhelmingly, voters prefer term limits. (It's their native commonsense!)
2. Term limits downgrades seniority, favors meritocracy.
3. Increases competition, encourages new challengers.
4. Builds a ‘citizen’ Congress, drives out career politicians.
5. Breaks ties to special interests.
6. Improves tendency to vote on principle.
7. Introduces fresh thinking, new ideas, eliminates 'old bulls'.
8. Reduces power of staff, bureaucracy, lobbies.
9. It will create a natural reduction in wasteful federal spending.
10. Encourages lower taxes, smaller government, greater voter participation in elections.
11. There are more reasons in favor of term limits than reasons against.
12. Gets reelection rates back to near 50%, versus the current 99%. (Founders called it "rotation in office") [7]

As you can see there are many reasons for term limits to be implemented. It would reduce the power of Washington, return Congress to a citizen's group, increase political interest in the country and not on their reelection campaigns.

Rotation in office is a healthy thing and was championed by the Founders. Lets bring that principle back to America.



Your argument regarding Washington stepping down proves nothing. I'm not sure how from two letters you can extrapolate that Washington was in favor of term limits.

IncumbentSuccess Rate
A 99% success rate for incumbents being re-elected also does absolutely nothing for being infavor of term limits. These incumbents are not installed bydefault. They have to be elected. If the constituents of a particular area feel that their representative represents their interests, they should be free tore-elect him or her unlimited times. To say they can't merely stifles the citizens' freedom of choice.

Senority System
Do you know any organization where senority has no perks? These politicans who have gained senority havedone so by producing results for their constituents. If they havedone so through unethical or illegal means, there are hundreds of other House members or 99 otherSenators who can do the simple thing and not vote forthe bills that favor the corrupt representative's interests.

You talk about these great perks that members of Congress receive. Again, very simple- if these perks are corrupting our politicians so much, we are free to vote them out. Maybe when they make their decisions to favor re-election, they help out their constituents. Do you disagree that the job of the representative is to represent the interests of their constituents? They are not there to represent the rest of the country, merely their voting district. While this may seem selfish, every voting district has their respective representatives with as much power to cast a vote as the others. Eliminate the perks, institute term limits, and then what? The politicians don't have much time to do what they want, so they spend money with no accountability- after all they can't be fired when their time is numbered from the second they get elected.

When it comes to looking good in a restricted term limit, why wouldn't they? Their time is short in the public spotlight. They need to do what they can while they're there. After all, they will need a job once they get out.

Lets also not forget, if a politican's time is limited, they wil do everything they can to get as much money for their district as possible. Pork barrell spending would go throught the roof. How would they pay for this all? The way government always does, borrow the money. Debt would spiral out of control. After all, if we have term limits, nobody is around long enough to be responsible for reckless spending. If you have 5 minutes in a bank vault, you'll grab as much money as you can. If you're told you could be there for a long time, you'll defend it vigorously.

Your List

1. Voters prefer term limits, but they also prefer free money. Should they be given it just because they think its a good idea?
2. There is no merit without senority. Why would anybody work hard to gain merit, when they could just make alliances to push their own agendas through? (Vote for my bill and I'll vote for yours).
3. New challengers, yes. New ideas, not necessarily. A successful vote that gets voted out can merely endorse his replacement and pull the strings of their puppet.
4, The most affective way to create a citizen Congress is to decentralize it. There are very few "career" politicans on the non-federal level, because there is too much accountability, and it usually pays little or nothing. If you are arguing for pay limits for Congress, I'll agree with you 110% on that.
5. Special interests will always exist. There is no way to break this. As long as the federal government has a bottomless purse, there will always be people slobbering at their feet to get their handout.
6. I don't see how term limits will encourage principaled voting. Anybody who has a finite time limit on anything acts more recklessly.
7. Fresh thinkers can be voted in at any time. Some voters don't want fresh thinkers, they want their politician that produces results. And most don't care if those results come at the expense of other voting districts, they don't live there.
8. If anything, this increases the power of lobbies. What is more enticing than a lobbyist going to a Congressman saying "vote for this unpopular bill, it helps us, and we have a desk and a 6 figure job waiting for you after you get voted out."
9. Term limits would INCREASE federal spending. These limited politicians will have to get as much for their constituents as possible in a short period. Ring up that Bank of China credit card, Nowheretown USA needs 10 new schools and 10 new bridges to nowhere. Vote for my useless spending bill and I'll vote for yours.
10. Lower taxes, yes. They want to look good. But with the increased spending, the debt will spiral out of control even worse. When it comes to greater voter participation, I don't know how term limits will encourage this. Most don't care about elections. That is scene by the paltry participation rates in elections. Most people don't want to be bothered by them.
11. This is a matter of perspective.
12. Rotation is a good thing, but only if the voters want that rotation, as opposed to being forced to accept it.
Debate Round No. 2


I use Washington as an example because he did not believe in perpetual reelection. He could have been elected for a third and probably even fourth term (if he was that old) but said no because he didn't believe that one man should hold office for so long.

Incumbent Success Rate

Your argument defending this system is flawed. In a perfect world of ethics your argument would hold water but that is not the case. People will not just "not vote" for corrupt bills when they could just throw their pork into it and then vote for it as well.

The infinite probability theorem states that the longer something happens for the greater the probability of something related happening.

In this case, the longer a politician is in office the greater the probability is for corruption.

Seniority also gives certain members of Congress undue respect. Harry Reid is "greatly respected" by many in Congress but the man is a complete boob. Why is he respected? Because he has survived for so long.


The reason we cannot just vote out these politicans like you suggest is because it becomes part of a cycle that is extremely hard to break.

The first part of this cycle is perk addiction yet we do not see this addiction. Many people only see their Congressman at their best, on TV in the paper etc. They don't see the limo's and the fancy dinners and parties etc. So the addiction is not on the forefront of their minds.

The second part comes into play with reelection and promises. Why would they vote out a person who promises them whatever they want? Perks encourage people to get reelected not because they want to serve but because they like the station.

So here is what you end up with:

Politicians tell constituents what they want to hear.
Constituents reelect politicians.
Promises broken.
Addiction fed.
Repeat every 2-6 years.

Then you say that short term service eliminates accountability which is also false.
Here's why:

* People will only serve because they feel compelled to due to civic duty. Without the perks and perpetual station there would be no reason for ambition seekers to run for office, only the sincere politicians will run and serve there time.

* There would be no reason to money and power grab like you describe. Such actions usually result from people trying to gain favor for reelection. Without the possibility of reelection there would be no reason to act irresponsibly. With so many politicians cycling through office why would one act irresponsibly when they won't be remembered for it? Reelection drives politicians to secure money and power in irresponsible numbers but why would they do that if they don't have to unduely try to?

* Term limits would increase the sense of service for politicians. They would put their time in because they want to and not for ill concieved reasons. Corruption and pork would be reduced because there would be no more back door scheming to secure favors in order to gain long term perks or reelection favors.

Your whole argument is based aroudn the point that limited time in office increases irresponsibility and destroys accountability when this is not the case. All of the problems you have described are happening NOW without term limits.

Term limits and the right to choose:

Do you get upset when your favorite president leaves office after two terms? Maybe a little but you are not angry or indignant about it because you accept that they have 2 terms max. Are presidential term limits bad? Are all presidents irresponsible and unaccountable because they know they have a 4 year joy ride? No.

People will accept term limits and like I said earlier they WANT them, overwhelmingly.

Give the people the right to choose and choose to have term limits.

Thank you.


If you don't like the idea of a politician throwing their pork into a corrupt bill, maybe that shows that the rules of Congress need to be changed, not term limits.

According to your infinite probability theorem, the opposite should be true as well- the longer a politician is in office, the better the chance of him/her straightening their act out is.

Harry Reid may be respected, but its not necessarily because he has been in Congress so long. Maybe its because he is the leader of his party and is a member of the Democratic Party. Reid does not get the same respect from Republicans. That holds true for both parties. A freshman Congressperson gets the same respect from the other side of the aisle as a more senior member.

The cycle that you claim is difficult to break is actually very easy to break. A politician running for re-election does not get any bonus votes, or the opportunity to campaign more than his opponent. He has no unequal advantages. A vote cast for a senior politician seeking re-election is just as equal to a vote cast for a rookie running for the first time.

The problem with your order is the part that says that "promises are broken." If a re-election promise is broken, why are the voters electing the lieing politician? If they continue to re-elect a known campaign liar, it is their own fault. This is the easiest jab that a candidate can throw towards an opponent seeking re-election. Promises go on the record, and its easy to show that they are broken.

People will run, not because it is their civic duty, but more as a mercenary. You see, when a politician wants to become a career politician because of the perks you pointed out, they do need to get SOME work done for their constituents, that their constituents want and doesn't look completely corrupt. If they don't, they make it easier for future opponents to get them voted out. On the other hand, if a politician knows that their time is short no matter what they do, they can come in, push through legislation that might have good short-term effects, but devestating long term effects, and it won't matter to them, because whether they're good, bad, corrupt, or angelic, they get fired at the end of their term limit no matter what.

You claim that my whole argument falsely states that limited time in office increases irresponsibility, yet you don't say how I'm wrong- you merely state that I'm wrong. Think of it this way- if you're told that you can spend one week on a tropical paradise, you will make the best of it. You'll drink, and play, and party like there is no tomorrow before you have to leave. If on the other hand you are told that you'll be living there for the long term, you're going to look to make the best of your situation and the environment around you. You aren't going to corrupt it and make it a place of ill repute.

You may be correct about people wanting term limits, but that is because most people don't really know what they truely want when it comes to politics. Ask your ordinary Bush hater why they hate Bush. They don't know. Ask any Obama lover why they love Obama. They don't know. Ask any ordinary citizen to name the 3 branches of government- I bet they don't know. So asking them if they want term limits is to ask essentially an ambiguous question to an uninformed opiner. Might as well ask a resident of New York City how good it is to live in La Jolla, California. Sure, you might get somebody who has been to La Jolla, but for the most part they're just going to be guessing, or they'll make an assumption that La Jolla is either better or worse, based on solely their own experience of living in NYC. Sure, somebody who hates NYC might look at La Jolla and say "gee, its warm there! Its gotta be better than NYC!" And the pollster could then place a check mark in the 'La Jolla is better than NYC' column. But that doesn't necessarily reflect any type of educated opinion.

I have no problem with giving people the right to make the choice for term limits. We live in a society where the people have a government, not the other way around. But instituting term limits places an arbitrary restriction on the people's ability to govern themselves. Keeping it open to the will of the people leaves it open to allow the people to govern how they feel is appropriate at that time.
Debate Round No. 3


Your application of the infinite probability theorem would be correct if people were random or inherently neutral when this is not the case. When applied to human nature the possibility of corruption will far outweigh the possibility of coming out of corruption or avoiding it all together.


You claim that incumbents running for office do not have any advantages over freshmen members running. This is false.

Advantages include:

Perks - sitting members of Congress get travel allowances and are able to travel back and forth between Washington DC and their district giving them the advantage of being able to operate in two areas at once where as a freshman will either have to pay for their travel expenses out of pocket or stick to their district alone.

Time - meeting with voters, holding speeches, appearing on TV etc. are part of a politicians job description, they are working while they are campaigning making it second nature to them. It is much harder for a freshman who has to juggle a job and expenses with campaigning to compete with a politician whose job it is to campaign essentially.

Visibility - due to heir job incumbents regularly appear on TV, at debates and fundraisers etc. giving them an advantage of name recognition in many homes.

Organization - due to their perks and their time in office many incumbents have extensive staffs and rosters of people in their employment that they can effectively use during a campaign that most people do not have access to. Politicians are provided with staffs while in office which they use to campaign while freshman entries have to rely on small staffs or volunteers.

Money - due to their time in office politicians have time to gather favors and contributions from collegues in Congress.

U.S. House

U.S. Senate







This table shows how incumbents manage to raise much more money than challengers in 1998. (The table is a bit off, my apologies.)
[1] [2] [3]

I cite three sources because these advantages are widely known and accepted. There is an advantage that makes politics unfair for challengers who wish to challenge incumbents.


Once again my opponent misses the point of my accountability argument as I have explained it multiple times already. You keep equating time in office as "time in a bank vault" or "a week on a tropical paradise" and I have countered time and time again with an adequet response: office is a service, a duty NOT a vacation. You cannot compare someones behavior between work and play. Serving in office is not time in a bank vault or a week in paradise, its a job and the people signing up will recognize this and act accordingly.

In fact your metaphors support my argument that people recognize the perks of office and equate them with things like vacation and unlimited money. You have this idea that office is like a wild money and power grab when IT IS NOT. Your misconceptions of office is what leads you to make such arguments.

Next you go on to insult the American electorate.Who are you to say that the people don't know what they want? You are using terms like "I bet" and assumptions like "they don't know". I find this argument presumptuous. Also it works to my advantage. If people really don't know what they want they don't know what they want how can they vote for their incumbents? This argument benefits term limits because if people truly don't know what they want then we should rotate their choices so they can come to a better understanding of what they are really looking for. If they aren't capable of choosing whether or not they want term limits how can they be capable of choosing elected officials? The American electorate will just choose what they're most familiar with since "they don't know what they want" adding to the incumbency advantage. Term limits would help eliminate this.

In conclusion:

Government should be returned to a civic duty by limiting time in office.
Eliminate career politicians.
Accountability would INCREASE because people would treat it as a serious civic job and not a vacation.
The American electorate wants term limits.
This would help increase the efficiency and the connection to the people.

Thank you.


commonsensepls forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Mr.Infidel 4 years ago
Dang, I was about to accept.
Posted by Angelo 4 years ago
I want to accept...
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Ron-Paul 4 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:--Vote Checkmark3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: This was a good debate. Too bad con forfeited. And he should also use sources next time.