One week ago, the Honorable John Dingell Jr. died at his Michigan home in the Congressional district he’d served for 60 consecutive years. His 30 terms in the House of Representatives is a historic feat.

But there’s something unsettling about America’s longest-serving Congressman succeeding his father in the same office (Representative John Dingell Sr. had held the seat for the 22 years prior) only to be succeeded by his own wife (Representative Debbie Dingell was elected when her husband retired from office in 2015).

That a House seat has been in the control of a single family (from father to son to son’s wife) for over 85 years — more than a third the age of the House itself — is more awkward than praiseworthy. The Khan family didn’t even rule Mongolia for that long.

Similarly, consider the Congressional leaders well into their third decade in office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was elected in 1984, while Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi was elected in 1987. Also in 1987, Donald Trump declared to Larry King on CNN, “I don’t want to be president,” and “Walk Like An Egyptian” by The Bangles was the year’s number-one song.

Clearly, times have changed a lot since 1987. Why haven’t the faces?

I propose an overdue 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Hereinafter referred to as the Federal Term Limit Amendment — “FTLA” to those in the know — the text of this proposed two-section Amendment (available upon request) limits members of Congress to 12 two-year terms in the House and four six-year terms in the Senate, and limits Judges to one 24-year term on the federal bench.

A mission to limit elective or appointed federal service to 24 years is ripe for criticism. As the proponent, I’m equipped to respond to all of it. I’ll now take your questions.

TOM: Isn’t this antidemocratic? What if I want a guy to represent me for 60 years?

Democracy unchecked subverts itself. Sure, you may want your Michigan Senator to represent you for 60 years, but his legislative votes also impact me in New York. Sometimes democracy has to be curbed to make things more democratic. Moreover, this is a federal limitation; locally, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan will still be free to make Erastus Corning’s 41 years in office look like child’s play.

Besides, there’s already a precedent for restricting a term of federal office; the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution formally established a two-term limit for the presidency. Are you really concerned that we’re becoming the Soviet Union because you couldn’t vote for President Obama a third time?

DICK: But why 24 years? That’s an odd number.

Actually, it’s an even number. And it’s also one conveniently divisible by both the two-year House terms and the six-year Senate terms. Additionally, there are 24 hours in a day, and “24” won Best Drama Series at the 2004 Golden Globe Awards. If you don’t like 24, take it up with either God or the Fox Network.

HARRY: But isn’t a 24-year tenure still too long for someone to remain in office?

Shush, Harry. The FTLA doesn’t guarantee 24 years in office, it just establishes an upper limit — you’d still be able to use the routine exercise of democracy (elections) to remove people from office. In most cases, the FTLA wouldn’t impact the terms of elected and/or appointed federal officials; the average length of service is about 10 years for both the House and Senate, and the average tenure of federal court judges is between 11 years (district) and 15 years (circuit).

The FTLA isn’t supposed to be a radical reformation of the system; it’s merely designed to spare us from those irremovable outliers who dominate the conversation as a function of their ubiquitous longevity.

Granted, there are benefits to a long Congressional career, given the institutional knowledge and talent for legislative procedure that accrues, plus the fact that committee leadership is based on seniority. Likewise, the stability in jurisprudence that results from long judicial terms ensures that the evolution of social norms proceeds smoothly, without sparking disruptive backlash.

But a term of office lasting nearly a quarter century achieves these advantages. After all, the FTLA accommodates nearly the entirety of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s celebrated 26-year Supreme Court tenure.

Besides, a term limit on judgeships would encourage presidents to appoint more senior and experienced jurists; there’d no longer be incentive to nominate the youngest candidates solely to ensure the longest possible lifetime stamp on the judiciary.

Given the reality of longer life-expectancies on judicial tenures, it’ll eventually be absurd not to impose such limits. Like, how many octogenarians should be interpreting laws that impact every citizen in this country, really?

JANE: I’m an aspiring member of Congress. Won’t the Federal Term Limit Amendment prevent me from amassing wealth and consolidating power in a cynical and self-obsessed bid for economic socio-political dominance?

Nope, not at all, Jane! With a little strategic planning, the savvy politician could rely on the FTLA to stay in office for 80 total years. Eight-zero years!

Let’s do the math. Jane wants to run for a seat the House of Representatives. Hooray! She wins, and then proceeds to do so again 11 more times for a total of 24 years. (Why not risk almost a dozen reelection campaigns? In 2016, only eight of 387 House incumbents were defeated in the general election — that’s an incumbency rate of nearly 98 percent, which was actually higher than the average incumbency success rate of 94 percent since 2000!)

In her 12th and final term in the House, Jane then thinks to herself: “I rather like my morning D.C. commute. But I can’t serve in the House anymore because of that dang FTLA. Wait! I’ll just run for Senate!”

Excellent choice. Jane launches her first Senate campaign and — relying on the notoriety and donor networks forged during nearly a quarter-century in the House — handily wins.

Jane moves her belongings from the Rayburn House Office Building across the National Mall to the Russell Senate Office Building, where she makes herself at home over the course of three additional six-year terms. (The prospects of an incumbent’s reelection in the Senate is only a nail-bitingly dismal 93 percent, but somehow, Jane ekes out a few more wins.)

Don’t despair, Jane! Your Congressional career may be coming to an end by operation of the FTLA, but that doesn’t mean you can’t run for president on the back of your hefty legislative career!

In fact, if Jane can secure reelection to a second presidential term, she could go so far as to unabashedly appoint herself to that newly-vacant Supreme Court seat in the twilight of her presidency, and rely on her former Senate colleagues to confirm her to the coveted 24-year term on the Supreme Court.

Add it up: 24 years in the House, plus 24 years in the Senate, plus eight years as president, plus 24 years as a Supreme Court Justice. That’s an 80-year reign over the affairs of state. Not too shabby, Jane! (Or, rather, Honorable Justice Madam President!)

My proposed Federal Term Limit Amendment ensures that power will be less consolidated among entrenched elites, but not so much so that our covetously ravenous lawmakers can’t still endeavor to devour each and every iota of power. That, my friends, is a win-win.

In summary, as we witness the dueling conceits of a few inexhaustible yet graying politicians, consider that Ms. Pelosi and Mr. McConnell have been in office for longer than 47 percent of the United States population has been alive. (Yup: nearly half of all Americans were born after they were elected to Congress. With an incumbency rate of over 90 percent, that functionally is a lifetime appointment.)

Furthermore, consider that a president who didn’t win the popular vote will impact our country for decades to come via the two lifetime appointments he’s already made to the Supreme Court.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Tom Brady may be a phenom, but wouldn’t it be nice if he let someone else win football for a change? If you agree that a century of Dingells in office is probably enough, call your representative and tell them to support the FTLA. Remind them about Jane’s 80-year career if they’re hesitant.

Editor’s note: Captain Jesse Sommer is stationed with the United States Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Florida.

 

One of my oldest friends works for one of the federal government’s three-letter agencies. After more than a decade serving her community, she recently decided to seize an opportunity to serve her country. So, mindful of that transition, I called her this past weekend to ask how she was holding up.

“I’m doing OK,” she lied, nonetheless striking a brave note despite having worked unpaid for the better part of a month.

“Yeah, but are you OK really?” I persisted. “The shutdown isn’t causing any undue hardship?”

“Well,” she said after a pause, likely searching for the most optimistic response, “I didn’t take this job for the paycheck.”

My friend is one of those bafflingly selfless people who would work for free if it were practical. And, like more than 800,000 of her fellow federal colleagues, she’s also one of those people who’s working for free because she has to.

It’s been over a month since political dysfunction precipitated yet another federal government shutdown; this one is the longest in history. That depressing distinction signifies mass multitudes of public-sector employees (to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of federal contractors) who haven’t received paychecks since well before Christmas, but who are still reporting to work to perform the critical government functions that ensure the vitality of our society.

Indeed, I write this column from 30,000 feet, having just passed through a security gate staffed by unpaid employees of the Transportation Security Administration.

“I’ve got a few days before I’m in trouble,” the woman feeding my luggage through the belt-scanner told me as I wished her the best and then awkwardly thanked her for showing up to work. I felt weird heading off on leave — still receiving my federal paycheck — while she was reporting for duty, in uniform but unpaid.

I mumbled a few more words of support and a stupid apology. “Oh don’t worry, baby,” she said, smiling.  “At least everyone is being really nice to us for a change.”

Maybe so. But pleasantries won’t put food on the table, nor will it insulate Americans from the second- and third-order effects of delayed paychecks.

Those who brush aside these federal workers’ pain are oblivious to the interconnectedness of our economy, where a month’s worth of missed paydays means a landlord can’t cover the mortgage on her rental property because the tenant can’t make his rent on time. I’ll spare you further example.

A government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass sufficient appropriations bills to fund the federal government’s operations (or when the president refuses to sign such bills into law). In these instances, the federal government must curtail certain services and furlough “non-essential” personnel.

Since 1976 — forty-three years ago, for those of you following along at home — there have been a total of 10 government shutdowns wherein federal employees were furloughed; two of those instances occurred in just the last year. Indeed, shutting down the government has now become a seemingly annual tactic. But to what effect?

It’s not my objective here to express an opinion on “the Wall,” or on immigration policy, or on the proper application of tax dollars to ensure border security. I don’t know enough about these topics to commit any thoughts on them to record.

But what I do know is that there are friends and family and neighbors nationwide who are laboring under increasing economic hardship to keep our society afloat, and it’s hard to see how shutting down the government has meaningfully contributed to resolving this political dispute.

Given the wholesale lack of any sense of urgency that the shutdown has lent to high-level discussions, was it even necessary? In what way will it have facilitated any eventual compromise? Clearly it didn’t accelerate negotiations.

Have we arrived at a place where our democracy doesn’t work unless pain is being inflicted on those who keep us safe from terror, poison, crime, and pollution? If our elected representatives are unable to negotiate unless hostages are involved, can’t we at least ask that the hostages be relevant?

This whole ordeal is reminiscent of the time that I threatened to cut the hair off my sister’s favorite doll if she didn’t let me have the window seat. The problem was that I had the wrong sister’s doll.

And explaining to Brenna afterwards that it was awfully hard to keep track of which toy belonged to which sister provided only the coldest of comforts, as she tragically cradled her newly-bald Kid Sister doll while Robin laughed at us from her prized perch by the window.

Similarly, federal employees can be forgiven for wondering how deliberately jeopardizing their finances creates any type of meaningful leverage at the bargaining table. It’s as though our elected officials are tormenting middle-class workers for the sport of it, forcing nearly a million people to go without paychecks so that they can score rhetorical points against one another on cable news.

As a soldier, I’m one of those lucky federal employees whose compensation is deemed too critical to mess with. Yet both my oath to uphold the Constitution and my duty to defend the nation are impossible tasks absent the contributions of so many others who each constitute a small but crucial piece of the puzzle.

Our reservoirs and food supply, our coastlines and air space, our energy grids and satellites — they’re all protected by thousands of federal employees whose efforts secure our way of life, whether in shoring up our stock markets or facilitating our daily commutes. Each of those citizens play a small role — often indirectly — in supporting the most successful society our species has ever known.

And right now, they’re working solely for love of country, as bills pile up.

Still framed in my apartment is a memorandum emailed to all servicemembers exactly one year ago by our revered former defense secretary, on the eve of yet another looming government shutdown. Amid that rancor and uncertainty, Secretary Jim Mattis’s memo was personal, gracious, and soothing, urging the nation’s warfighters to remain the calming beacon of selfless sacrifice that he knew them to be.

And while I didn’t think to share his words with my friend as we got off the phone, this column offers me a second chance to channel General Mattis, in the hopes of comforting her and the many Americans on whose federal service we gratefully depend:

“Steady as she goes — hold the line. I know our Nation can count on you.”

Editor’s note: Captain Jesse Sommer is a lifelong resident of New Scotland, currently stationed in Florida with the United States Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).