With public disgust for Congress at record levels, some members of that esteemed
body are once again calling for term limits as a way to toss out the some of
their fellow bums and clean up the mess they’ve helped create.
believe it. If they’re serious about the need for high turnover, they can
practice what they preach and term-limit themselves by resigning today and
looking for another job.
High turnover isn’t what’s needed to repair
what’s wrong with Congress, though admittedly it will help in some cases. The
real problem with term limiting is that mandatory short tenure makes it very
tempting for politicians to use their time in Congress to prepare for lucrative
positions on the private sector payrolls by helping those who can help them the
most, not the folks back home who sent them to Washington.
from term limits? It’s not just the lawmaker who can look forward to a hefty
boost in pay to use what he learned and the contacts he made to better serve his
new employer. It’s also the executive branch, which can flummox the uninitiated
lawmakers, and the lobbyists who will move in quickly to “help and advise” the
newcomers learn the ropes (and dangle future jobs before their eyes).
problem isn’t turnover, it’s rollover. It’s time to remove the incentives to
cash in on congressional service, starting with extending the length of time
before lawmakers can lobby their former colleagues (supposedly two years) or
even advise clients on how to deal with Congress (about 10 minutes).
remove their privileges giving them access where we poor mortals cannot venture,
including the House floor and the gym.
And don’t let them use their
former titles for any business-related activities.
And while we’re at it,
let’s restrict the lobbying by spouses and other close relatives going to the
private sector and cashing in on the incumbent’s status. Ending that form of
nepotism should open up a lot of jobs for real estate agents and lobbyists with
no family connections.
California voters last year eased their stringent
term limits law because it had “produced a Statehouse filled with inexperienced
legislators looking over the horizon to the next election,” reported
Legislative term limits is a deeply flawed – and grossly
misrepresented – theory that doesn’t work.
It is an arbitrary policy that
is tantamount to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It could – but not
necessarily – get rid of some dead wood, but would probably toss out more good
guys than bad guys.
It’s been tried, with poor results.
the Supreme Court ruled term limit laws for members of Congress are
unconstitutional, and repeated attempts to amend the Constitution have been
A new USA Today poll suggests voters may be preparing to
term limit a number of lawmakers next year without any constitutional amendments
or new laws.
2014 could be another throwthe- bums-out year, like 1994 and
2006, when control of the House shifted because the public was fed up with the
incumbents. In the year leading up to each of those years, the number of unhappy
voters was less than it is today.
The USA Today survey found only four
percent of respondents felt Congress would be worse off if nearly all members
were replaced next year, and 47% said that would be an improvement.
of Congress’s most important – and often neglected – roles is that of quality
control. It is supposed to oversee the functioning of the executive branch, to
make sure it is doing its job, spending taxpayer’s money efficiently, and so
Trouble is, in recent years that has been greatly neglected,
especially when the president and congress are of different
That’s when oversight devolves to a mean-spirited game of
Taxpayers would lose a lot of accumulated expertise that only
comes with experience, and empower people who have demonstrated they really
don’t care about the effective functioning of government or the public interest
as they advance their extremist ideology at their edges of the political
Removing that experience (and the staff expertise that goes
with it) puts the people’s branch at a distinct disadvantage.
would weaken the influence of the Jewish community, which has depended on
building long-term relationships, starting at the local level, to educate
politicians on important issues like funding for social services, education and
other domestic programs as well as being the front line in Israel’s
If the would-be reformers really want to fix a broken system,
they should focus on the electoral system.
Not the phony efforts by
Republicans in the name of fighting election fraud that are just a cover for
keeping the poor and other minorities away from the polls.
A good start
would be to end the partisan gerrymandering by both sides that have left more
than 80% of congressional districts solid red or solid blue. A return to
competitive districts may require establishing non-partisan commissions to draw
As it is, the partisan gerrymandering has meant
the real competition comes between extremists in party primaries; next year it
is shaping up on the Republican side, but Democrats do the same
Republicans who voted to end the government shutdown are being
threatened from the far right by challengers who say they aren’t doctrinaire
And the malaise that has gridlocked government in Washington is
unlikely to lessen until there are serious campaign finance reforms. With
members of Congress spending a huge percentage of their time raising the
prodigious amounts of money it takes to win elections these days – and with the
soaring political clout of big donors buying influence to protect their special
interests – our lax campaign finance laws are a huge part of the depressing
As for term limits, we already have them – they’re
And if you don’t vote – and that means primaries, too –
then you surrender your right to kvetch.