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How to Term-Limit Congress

January 29, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Representative Francis Rooney
(R., Fla.) hope to rejuvenate an old idea, proposing a
constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of
Congress. The measure deserves to pass, but it won’t. However,
states could take up the battle again by challenging a misguided
1995 Supreme Court decision that protected legislators from
accountability to their voters.

America’s political problems run deep, and there is no
panacea, but term limits offer at least a partial remedy. In
effect, they do what elections once did, ensuring competition for
power and rotation in office.

Running for the House of Representatives was once a blood sport.
Passage of unpopular legislation sometimes led to mass political
slaughter, the ouster of a third or more of the House in one
election, such as in 1854. Some House members knew they had no
chance of returning, so they retired. In contrast, today, even when
polls show profound disillusionment with Congress, reelection rates
typically top 90 percent and have gone as high as an astounding 98
percent. Even in so-called wave elections, more than 80 percent of
members are reelected. The joke during the Cold War was that
congressmen had higher reelection rates than members of the Soviet
Union’s Central Committee.

Since Congress won’t
restrict itself, individual states should be able to impose term
limits.

Term limits most directly prevent politicians from turning
office-holding into a career, spending 30 or 40 years as a
congressman or senator, hanging on until they can barely function.
Forcing rotation in office would also hinder the development of
permanent relationships among members and interests/lobbyists. Even
when these ties did develop, they would last only until the
member’s term ends.

By churning offices and encouraging electoral competition, term
limits discourage the creation of a permanent political class.
Forced to run anew for different offices rather than for reelection
as incumbents, a larger fraction of established candidates will be
defeated. More contests will feature non-incumbents, which will
yield a greater focus on issues than on, say, constituent service.
“Disruptive” candidates, of the sort seen in the new
Democratic caucus in the House, are more likely to succeed.

Critics worry that legislative turnover just increases the power
of congressional staffers, but having essentially permanent
chairmen and ranking members leads to near-permanent staff too. In
practice, voters seem no better served by a 30-year legislator than
by a 30-year staffer, since both tend to represent the political
culture, influential interests, and the entrenched state more than
anything approaching the public interest. Public-choice economics
warns us that institutions have interests too, and long-serving
legislators and staffers largely serve the institution to which
they both belong. The …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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