Dennis Janson: The case for term limits in Washington

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat, has announced his retirement after 40 years on the job. Counting six seasons in the California State Assembly, he’s been on a public payroll for well over half of his 74 years.

We can only hope he takes some other dead wood with him to his taxpayer gilded golden years. Guys like U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The 79-year-old senior legislator has an admirable run of achievement during his 37 years inside the beltway. Where would we be without Senate Bill 1580: protecting public safety and sacred sites from the Utah Prairie Dog Act of 2011?

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus after 38 years, is also stepping down as the senior senator from Montana. The Democrat will continue to draw a government salary though as the newly designated U.S. ambassador to China. Baucus, 72, is noteworthy for not only weathering allegations he was drunk on the Senate floor during the 2009 health care debate but also for sponsoring a bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. It would have simplified the application of the excise tax imposed on bows and arrows. The weapon of choice when he was a kid?

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) is a profile in courage and Hollywood.  He’s appeared in four Batman movies. That is when he’s not sponsoring Oscar winning legislation like Senate Bill 2302, extending the temporary suspension of duty on certain ski boots, cross country ski footwear and snowboard boots. Seems the Batman franchise is exceeded only by Leahy’s un-caped crusade in Washington now in its 39th year.

There are distinct advantages to seniority. They are familiar with government’s inner workings and location of the nearest restroom. Senior senators from the President’s party control federal patronage appointments in their states, so none of these old war horses go to the barn lacking in hay after their day in the Washington sun. Too many people owe them….well…lunches if you get my drift.

Additionally the codgers are given preferential treatment in choosing committee assignments not to mention being entitled to choose a desk closer to the front of the Senate chamber. Even better they can appropriate better office space when someone finally throws in the towel.

The time is nigh for congressional term limits. Consider that until 2007, perfectly serviceable airline pilots were forced to retire at 60. That has been amended to 65 while those serving in Congress can soar seemingly forever. South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond served until he was 101. Drool cups being non-partisan, that was long enough for him to be elected as both a Republican and Democrat.

Not that these people can’t be productive after decades in D.C.. Waxman’s biography cites “incredible success as a legislator advancing the goals of alleviating poverty." How’s that working out Congressman? It also cites "fighting the health scourge of tobacco- even as the golden state teeters on legalizing marijuana- and expanding health care and coverage."  Oh Joy!

Modestly there is no mention of his championing a commemorative to a “Streets of San Francisco” star, when he sponsored a bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 200 S. Barrington St. in Los Angeles, as the “Karl Malden Station." Nor is there any suggestion that he’s absent a lot. According to ‘congress.gov’ he’s missed 9 percent of roll call votes, far worse than the median 2.3 percent among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving.

Let’s try some new people. People who don’t have alliances. Who don’t owe anything to anyone other than their constituents. People who have new ideas and new outlooks and don’t harbor old prejudices.

As for the likelihood of any of this coming to pass? About the same as meaningful tort reform. And for roughly the same reason: self-interest. Thirty-seven percent of those serving in Congress are attorneys, six in 10 senators are lawyers.

Will they voluntarily uncouple their personal gravy trains? No way. 

So voters should.

How about four terms for senators? That doesn’t seem so limiting until you realize its nearly a quarter century.

Considering that members of the House of Representatives have to devote much of their time to running every two years, let’s give them 10 terms. Nice round number and it nets out to two decades.

More than enough time to get the job done or get out of town.

That's my 2 Cents.

Dennis Janson's "My 2 Cents" column is published every Monday and Wednesday. His on-air commentary airs each Friday at 6 p.m. 

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