First Advisor

David A. Smeltzer

Term of Graduation

Summer 1998

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Political Science


Political Science




United States Congress -- Term of office, Term limits (Public office) -- United States



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 145 pages)


This paper looks closely at the debate on congressional term limits. The objective of this paper is to examine critically the fundamental arguments made in support of term limits. Analysis of pro-term limits literature pinpoints incumbent behavior as the driving force behind term limits reform. In particular, supporters argue that legislators have become increasingly career-oriented over the past fifty years, allocating for themselves a myriad of perks of office ( e.g., large staff, free mailing, and unlimited travel budgets) to achieve their reelection goals. In addition, incumbents are cited for focusing on the wishes of their constituencies instead of on the country's needs, creating critical problems in the operation of Congress and rendering congressional elections effectively uncontestable. The framework of representation developed by the Framers is analyzed. This provides a basis for discussion to determine if legislators are too responsive to parochial interests at the expense of the national interest--as is contended by proponents. The nature of policy paralysis is reviewed to determine if it is the result of incumbents' reelection behavior or is endemic to the Framers' system of representation. We suggest the latter is a more probable explanation. This work will examine the charges that incumbents have prospered from generous perks of office and constituency service. Findings will show that while perquisites of office have grown sharply over the past fifty years, House incumbent reelection rates have remained fairly static. Likewise, in the Senate, no discernible pattern has emerged to show that its members have profited from the benefits of office. An alternative perspective on turnover will also be offered, indicating that turnover already occurs to a meaningful degree. In conclusion, evidence has not supported proponents' beliefs about policy paralysis, incumbent behavior, and the nature of turnover. For this reason, questions are raised about the legitimacy of term limits as a reform movement.


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