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The generational divide between the people and Congress

Denise Contreras

Rather than implementing term limits for congressmen, there should be more efforts to encourage younger generations to get involved with politics and law.

In late February, Sen. Mitch McConnell announced he would be stepping down from his position as the Republican Senate leader at the age of 82. He is the longest-serving Senate leader in history. In his exit speech, McConnell stated, “One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter.”

According to FiveThirtyEight, “Across all senators and representatives, the median age of the 118th Congress is 59 years old. The median senator is 65 years old, a record high.” At the same time, the median U.S. population age stays between 35 and 39, also increasing due to the growing number of adults living longer and choosing to not have children.

Many think that due to the disparities between the median age and the ages of Congress members, the latter cannot best represent the former’s interests, values and priorities. Many have growing concerns about the older generation’s lack of knowledge about modern science and technology, and the implications that this lack of knowledge has on new legislation.

For example,  the recently proposed ban on TikTok is largely based on the fear that China is using the platform to steal the United States’ data.

There are many reasons why older people make up most of Congress. Primarily, older voters are a lot more active in elections than younger voters. According to the US Census Bureau, the 2016 election saw a 70.9% voter turnout from citizens 65 and older, compared to only 46.1% of 18 to 29-year-olds.

People tend to vote for those who they feel will represent them best, so it’s no wonder why older voters will vote for older politicians.

Implementing age-based term limits would remove a lot of incentive for members of Congress to dedicate the proper amount of time and resources to a particular topic or piece of legislation because they would know they will not be able to run for re-election after the fact.

According to Brookings, “Members who know their time in Congress is limited will face less pressure to develop expertise on specific issues simply because, in most cases, the knowledge accrued won’t be nearly as valuable in a few short years.”

Moreover, age-based term limits would set a precedent for discrimination based on factors out of people’s control. After all, there is no difference between prohibiting people from serving in Congress based on their age and simply being ageist. There are many people above the age of 65, and even above the age of 80, who still have sharp minds and whose experience serves as a large benefit to their decisions.

Furthermore, setting a concrete line of when a person is “too old” to serve in Congress would virtually remove the representation of U.S. citizens above a certain age. The retirement age in the U.S. is between 66 and 67, meaning that many people in their mid-70s have only left the work environment less than a decade prior.

There is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to vote for people they resonate with. Therefore, setting age-based term limits would do the opposite of broadening the representation of U.S. citizens in Congress.

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