There are currently 14 octogenarians in the U.S. Congress. That’s a little over 3% of Congressmen. Of those 14, however, are some of the most powerful names in both the U.S. House and Senate.
- Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House, is 81-years-old
- Mitch McConnell, the current Senate Minority Leader, is 80-years-old.
There are even a few pushing 90, including:
- Chuck Grassley (age 88)
- Dianne Feinstein (age 88)
Ol’ Chuck even plans to run for reelection, where if he wins and serves out his term, he’ll be 94.
Dianne is in the middle of a term that will take her to age 92 by the time she finishes.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect and revere elder statesmen. The wisdom they can impart and the experiences they can draw from are unmatched in the population.
But governing requires energy and fresh perspectives. It also demands freedom from conflicts of interest, which I’m not confident someone has after 40+ years in government.
People should rarely if not even be driving in their late 80s let alone governing.
In a country of ~330 million, the United States has a deep pool of potential candidates. Yet the same people stay in Washington D.C. forever.
This current Congress is one of the oldest on record. Half of the U.S. Senate is 65 years or older. The House is not much younger.
We have maximum age limits in many other parts of society, so this should not be controversial. Here are some examples:
- Pilots — they have to give up their wings at age 65
- Military — age 28 (Marines) to 39 depending on branch
Certain U.S. states even impose maximum age limits for judges and politicians (generally set at age 70).
Other countries have similar limits for judges and politicians, including:
- Australia — age 70 for judges on federal courts
- Brazil — age 70 for all public servant
- Canada — age 70 or 75 for judges (depending on court) and 75 for federal senators
So while I do not profess to know the exact age limit for Congressmen, I know there needs to be one. Chuck, Dianne, and others should be enjoying their glory years and giving someone else a turn at captaining the ship.
Not only is Chuck Grassley 88-years-old, but he’s worked in Congress since 1975. As of 2022, that’s 47 years in Washington D.C. It’s time, Chuck.
The same can be said about President Joe Biden who has worked in Washington D.C. since 1973.
Regardless of political ideology, after decades spent in Washington even the most morally sound person can get too entwined in the district lifestyle of lobbyists and special interest groups.
Which is why term limits are necessary.
Incumbents have major advantages over any challengers, so relying on the standard democratic process is insufficient. Their financial advantages, in particular, give them a significant leg up over any other candidates.
Reasonable term limits would level the playing field and encourage fresh perspectives after a certain period of time.
Democracy runs on the fuel of bold ideas. It is hard to incentivize boldness in Congressmen who know their jobs are all but guaranteed. Fresh takes and challenges would only serve to strengthen America’s flailing democracy.
It might also encourage more Congressmen to put country over party.
Cleaning Up Congress
Term and age limits are not going to clean up Congress completely. There are rampant financial conflicts that should be easy to address, although it’s admittedly hard to get Congressmen to regulate themselves.
But term and age limits would mitigate conflicts and reasonably ensure new blood. No elected official should get too comfortable on their taxpayer-funded salary.
And octogenarians should be enjoying their lives, not engaging in the polarized battle that has become U.S. politics. Maybe a fresh group of candidates — actually willing to work with one another — is just what the country needs.