States should make congressional term limits a top priority

The Capitol in Washington is illuminated for repairs as a strong thunderstorm passes through the region late Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

For the first time in decades, the American people have a realistic shot at obtaining congressional term limits. Rather than delay and distract from this effort, the South Carolina General Assembly must take swift action to support it.

The latest Real Clear Politics poll average shows public approval of Congress is under 13 percent. Despite this, 95 percent of House and Senate incumbents still get re-elected each election cycle. The system is broken, but not beyond repair.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides the tool states can use to fix Washington: an amendment-proposing convention. When two-thirds of state legislatures (34) petition Congress for a convention on a particular topic, Congress is given no option but to call it. Each state’s legislature then chooses the delegates for the convention.

The General Assembly has an opportunity in this session to help convene a convention that is confined only to the subject of congressional term limits.

This means the convention delegates are limited to the single issue of a term limits for Congress amendment, and can be recalled or penalized for not following that instruction.

The Assembly can take action right now by adopting House Resolution 4739 and Senate Resolution 1046, introduced by Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, in the S.C. House and Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Daniel Island, in the S.C. Senate.

The state of Florida has already passed a resolution to initiate a term limits convention. Ten other states have filed similar legislation this year. With our citizen government on the line, it would make little sense for South Carolina to stand down and not be a leader on this front.

In the 1940s, when citizens sensed that the federal government was getting too big for its britches, they didn’t start by term-limiting the local dog catcher. They began right at the top, by launching a campaign to term limit the president of the United States.

Convention applications were filed for this purpose, and they helped pressure Congress into proposing the amendment. By 1951, presidential term limits had been ratified into our Constitution as the 22nd Amendment.

Congress has since joined the president in misusing its power. It has kicked the can down the road and saddled us with $19 trillion in debt.

Debates on the House and Senate floor have deteriorated from policy sessions to mudslinging matches. Members do too much to stay in office at the beginning, then too little once they have enough seniority to take election for granted.

Benjamin Franklin once said that a position of power should never become a position of profit, lest it be abused.

As the nation’s highest-paid elected body, Congress has turned into a business venture. Candidates call it a swamp on the campaign trail, then show up and realize it’s more like a hot tub. No wonder the turnover rate is so weak.

Pundits and politicians often label term limits as a “debate,” but among the American people, the question has been settled for a while. According to Gallup, super-majorities of Republican, Democrat and independent voters support a limit on congressional terms. With citizens getting increasingly frustrated over partisan division, term limits represent a rare chance for both sides to work together.

South Carolina’s congressional delegation has also acknowledged the need for this reform. Both of our U.S. senators support term limits. So do five of our seven congressmen: Reps. Mark Sanford (R-Charleston), Jeff Duncan (R-Laurens), Trey Gowdy (R-Greenville), Michael Mulvaney (R-Rock Hill) and Tom Rice (R- Myrtle Beach).

The group U.S. Term Limits, which fights for this issue nationwide, has called the South Carolina delegation “best in the nation” for limiting terms.

The current situation is favorable for success.

All of the grassroots energy generated for our recent primaries doesn’t have to disperse; it can and should be channeled into this effort toward a term limits convention.

John Steinberger is a former chairman of the Charleston County Republican party.