February 25, 2014

House set to lose six centuries of experience as Dingell, other long-serving members retire

Chart showing number of House and Senate retirements since 1930Monday’s retirement announcement by Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, brings to 40 the number of sitting House members (or 9.2%) who, for various reasons, aren’t seeking reelection this fall. That level is in line with historic levels of House turnover, but the impending retirements of several other long-serving members will collectively subtract more than 600 years of legislative experience from the chamber.

By our count, 20 representatives have said they’ll retire from the House; 16 more are running for other offices, from Senate (including three Georgia congressmen) to lieutenant governor to San Bernardino County, Calif., supervisor. That’s 36 who are retiring or seeking other office, one fewer than the average for the past 21 election cycles, according to analysis of data from Vital Statistics on Congress, an invaluable reference guide produced by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute. (Three representatives elected or re-elected in 2012 have resigned, and one has died; none have yet been replaced via special election.)

Two years ago, according to Vital Statistics, 38 representatives either retired or ran for some other office instead of their House seat. Since 1930, the year with the highest House turnover was 1992, the year the House banking and post office scandals broke. 65 representatives retired or ran for something else that year; while that might have counted as an “exodus,” this year’s departures do not.

Along with Dingell, who’s serving his 59th year in the House, several other long-serving representatives are calling it quits this year. They include California Democrats George Miller and Henry Waxman (both first elected in 1974), Virginia Republican Frank Wolf (first elected in 1980) and North Carolina Republican Howard Coble (first elected in 1984). In addition, Florida Republican C.W. “Bill” Young was serving his 22nd term when he died this past October. All in all, at least 644 years of seniority will be leaving the House come January 2015.

Chart showing breakdown of service length in House and Senate since 1953For most of the past 60 years, the overall experience level of the House has varied within a narrow range: The average length of service was typically between five and six terms, while the median was four or five terms. Over the past few election cycles, though, the share of less-experienced representatives (those in their first through third terms) has risen significantly. In 2009, 147 representatives (33.8% of the entire body) had six years or less of House experience; by 2013 that had risen to 196, or 45%.

The shift has been even more pronounced in the Senate: 54 senators are in their first term, the most since the 97th Congress in 1981. The average length of service has fallen from 14 years in 2009 to less than 10 years in the current Congress; the median length of service in the Senate, six years, is the lowest it’s been since 1981.

Topics: Congress

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Mikki Mack3 years ago

    long past time for a change and get rid of the good old boys – Iowa needs to have most of their congressional representatives retire as well – most have been there too long – such as Harkin and Grassley – the trouble is, no matter if they retire or are not re-elected, they get the same pay as if they were still members of Congress and that is something that should have been stopped a very long time ago, the same as when they were using insider information from Wall St. to get rich. Most members of Congress are millionaires and they were that wealthy when first elected; only made the money after they were in office.

  2. Jack3 years ago

    Why don’t you research just what these political “lifers” have actually accomplished? What great movements have they started. What great ideas have they come up with? Dingell and Waxman are the only ones with an known name, and still what have they actually done, except collect a paycheck. The research mentions experience. Experience in what? Manipulating the political system? Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan CAME IN with more actual experience than Dingell and Waxman and has DONE MORE than those two combined over their 98 years of service.

  3. Bob Finley3 years ago

    Dingle’s a perfect example of why we need “term limits” in the Congress and Senate. The “career politician” is the biggest problem in Washington. Representatives should be limited to 4 terms in Congress and 2 terms in the Senate. They need REAL WORLD experience as opposed to coming right out of college as an aide, then becoming a candidate, then eventually becoming an “incumbent.” Also, regardless of how long they serve, the LIFETIME pension and retirement benefits should be eliminated.

    1. Mikki Mack3 years ago

      long past time for term limits; same as with new law preventing members to use insider information to invest on Wall St. information

  4. Tom Eglinton3 years ago

    It is greedy politicians like Dingell whose overarching aim was to stay in power as long as possible who prevent Congress from doing the work the electorate requires.
    A prominent case in point is Entitlement Reform.
    Politicians worried about being reelected are never going to make tough decisions when they are needed. Term-limited office holders are much more likely to vote their conscience if they know they are going to leave office.

    1. slk3 years ago

      bravo returned!!!

  5. Don Parsons3 years ago

    I am 79. Don’t tell me Old Charlie and his pals have the energy to run this country. Let them all go.

  6. Kpar3 years ago

    “No experience required”

    Maybe that should read, “Required- No Experience”

    Experience has been shown to be a complete failure in determining effective cost control of the government. Thank God Dingleberry is leaving- too bad he didn’t leave 50 years ago.

    If we can’t institute term limits, how about we eliminate pensions for House members (it was only supposed to be a part-time temp job, anyway) and for Senators (they are all a bunch of millionaires- why are we funding them?). That might help solve the problem.

    1. slk3 years ago

      nothing is so permanent, then a temporary government program!!! milton friedman!!!

  7. bob3 years ago


  8. Dale Hetzler3 years ago

    Is there any of these people that are not multi-millionaires? Give us a break. Look how they live in Washington DC.

  9. Dale Hetzler3 years ago

    Get rid of them all. These old timers are on the take with lobbyist and many other types of special interest groups. They ceased looking out for the American people and interests many years ago.

  10. Natalie Roberts3 years ago

    The people who represent us, such as Mr. Dingle, have treated their status as their employment, and have lost touch with people who work for a living in the private sector. The Constitution did not envision lifelong representatives or senators to remain in Congress forever. They were to serve for a few years and then return to private life. While long-term experience may be valuable, it can be used to manipulate the system once they are firmly entrenched. Fresh ideas and attitudes are also valuable, and if newly-elected people are only in office for two terms, the lobbyist system will be weakend, and that’s all to the good.

  11. slk3 years ago

    it’s time for term limits!!! make potus, a one term of 6 years!!! no campaigning, and only work!!! congressmen, limit 2 terms, and if anyone wants a 2nd, they must step down, and be replaced, so the people are always represented!!! furthermore, all politicians, are required by law, to follow any laws, they pass on to the people!!! that would require all politicians, to have bamacare, instead of the state of the art healthcare they receive at the capitol, and home!!! and finally, all politicians , instead of retiring on a full congressmans salary (spouses also get 50%) for life, will have to settle for social security (ss would then be finally fixed)!!! God Bless America!!!

    1. Dale Hetzler3 years ago

      Very well said sir….

    2. Gene Lietman3 years ago

      OUTSTANDING ! However , just another wishfull dream ! Sadly, term limits will never change until CONGRESS can not control their OWN TENURE ! But then , how can this ever be accomplished , since Congress MUST determine their OWN TENURE ? Isn’t 60 years in Congress a little OVERKILL ?

    3. Tom Eglinton3 years ago