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June 30th, 2010

Byrd’s Death Resurrects Term Limits Debate

By James Johnson

At about 3:00 a.m. on Monday, June 28, United States senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia died at the age of 92 in Fairfax, Virginia.

For the last few years he had been plagued by health problems and had been confined to a wheelchair. Yet rather than resigning his seat, even when it became clear that he could not fulfill the legislative duties of his office, he chose to die with his boots on.

He died holding three legislative records: the most years of service in the U.S. Senate (51), the most years of service in the U.S. Congress (57), and the most votes ever cast in the U.S. Congress (over 18,540).

To put this into perspective for Iowans, consider the fact that Sen. Charles Grassley has been in the Senate for 30 years. And since being elected in 1980, he has cast slightly more than 10,000 votes. Robert Byrd nearly doubled that.

In a time when Americans say that they are growing fed up with career politicians, it may be hard to cheer such longevity records. And Congress has not just lost one old bull die in recent months, she has lost two more: Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts (46 years), and Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania (36 years).

Yet, still hovering over the Capitol Hill horizon is a long list of perpetual members: Rep. John Dingell of Michigan (54 years), Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii (50 years), Rep. John Conyers of Michigan (45 years), Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin (41 years), Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York (40 years). And the list goes on. Ad nauseam.

And why do these members of Congress keep winning elections? One of the reasons is that they send money — lots of it — back to the people who elected them.

Sen. Byrd was crowned the “King of Pork” by Citizens Against Government Waste a few years ago. The federal tax dollars that he sent back to West Virginia included funding for pork-barrel projects such as Robert C. Byrd Drive, the Robert C. Byrd Highway, the Robert C. Byrd Freeway, the Robert C. Byrd Center for Hospitality and Tourism, the Robert C. Byrd Hardwood Technologies Center, and two Robert C. Byrd federal buildings.

Some might think that Sen. Byrd’s passing might mark the end of the era in which Americans are content to allow members of Congress to hold their seats perennially. I doubt it. The voters who put them there year after year, term after term, like the taste of pork. They are the ones to blame for half-century senators.

The lack of a Term Limits Amendment to the Constitution is not the problem. The real solution is “Voter Limits.”

The Founding Fathers understood that whenever citizens can vote themselves money out of the public treasury, they will elect politicians who will give them what they want. Again and again.

We do not have a politician problem, we have a population problem. The majority of the population are addicted to government goodies. Whether it is in the form of subsidies or pork-projects or “entitlements” (think of the odor of that word for a moment).

We the People — or at least a majority of them who go to the polls — keep sending these Robin Hoods back to Capitol Hill to steal from the taxpayers and give it to the non taxpayers. Congress has become little more than the redistributors of taxpayers’ wealth to the non-taxpayers who put them in charge of the purse.

Here is a novel idea. How about letting those who pay to keep the government running be the ones who decide who runs the government? And how about forbidding those who receive from the government treasury to choose those who distribute the treasure?

For those of you who have been to a wedding reception lately, let me ask, which reception will cost the father of the bride more money: the one with an open bar, or the one that makes each guest pay for his beer?

Rather than barking for term limits — which we did in 1994, only to get nowhere in 1995 — perhaps it is time to propose a Voter Limits Amendment. Empower the American taxpayer, and you will clean up Washington faster than any term limits prescription.

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About the Author

James M. Johnson
James M. Johnson is the president of the Iowa Republican Assembly, which works to get constitutionally minded conservatives elected to leadership positions in the Republican Party, and to elective office on the local, state, and federal level. He has worked on over 50 political campaigns and holds an M.A. in public policy with a concentration in political communication.

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