Viewpoint: Presidents are term limited. Congress should be, too

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Taffy Howard

Dakota Scout Guest Columnist

     On Feb. 27, Americans across the nation celebrated National Term Limits Day. National Term Limits Day celebrates the ratification of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, setting a limit of two four-year terms for American presidents.

    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, who was 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 two-thirds majority needed to force Congress to act, Congress decided it was in its best interest to address the issue. This was the genesis of the 22nd Amendment.

    Harry Truman who was President when the 22nd Amendment was ratified, was grandfathered in, so the amendment did not affect him. However, Truman believed two terms were enough for any occupant in the White House. Believing that since he had served all but 82 days of Roosevelt’s fourth term plus one full term, he had 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 has failed to do so. 

    So, every Feb. 27, Americans celebrate the passage of the 22nd Amendment and work to raise awareness of today’s most popular and bipartisan issue – congressional term limits. A recent Pew Research poll showed 87 percent of Americans regardless of political affiliation support congressional term limits. Yet despite this overwhelming support, Congress refuses to act on congressional term limits. Recently, House Joint Resolution 11 by Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina with over 100 co-sponsors, which would have set terms for the House of Representatives at 3 terms – 6 years and the Senate at 2 terms – 12 years, 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.  South Dakota could soon join the roster. Yet sadly attempts at passing a term limits resolution have faltered. That is why South Dakotans must let the Legislature know, we want term limits for Congress, and they need to act on it.

     After all, term limits are good enough for the president, why not for Congress? 

Taffy Howard is the South Dakota State chair for U.S. Term Limits..