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Chester County Press

Let’s finish the job and implement term limits

02/28/2024 12:29PM ● By John Eichelberger and Andy Dinniman

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 which was ratified on Feb. 27, 1951.

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.

We celebrate February 27th, as National Term Limits Day. We do this 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 Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina with over 100 co-sponsors, which would have set terms for the House of Representatives at three 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.   In Pennsylvania, State Senator Jarrett Coleman has filed Senate Resolution 225. This resolution would have Pennsylvania join other states in calling for a convention for proposing a congressional term limits amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, Pennsylvania State House Rep. Jared Solomon has signed on as the House sponsor of House Resolution 183.

Happy Term Limits Day and let’s finish the job and get term limits for congress.

John Eichelberger and Andy Dinniman are former Pennsylvania State Senators and Pennsylvania state co-chairs for U.S. Term Limits.