Monday, May 25, 2009

Term Limts are Wrong Answer to the Right Problem

For years, many conservatives have been pleading for limits on how long people can serve in office. They are tired of the rampant corruption, the influence of money, and the "cronyism" pervasive in politics today and they feel the need to do something...anything. Term limits are among the most popular of promoted "solutions."

It seems to make sense, keeping people in office for a limited period of time, instead of them becoming too comfortable, complacent and, most importantly, too powerful. We have politicians who have money in the freezers, with bridges to "no where," and inappropriate relationships with interns. Something has got to change. On the surface, term limits seems like a brilliant proposition. However, this idea mandates that we dig a little deeper. Term limits are a fairly simple concept. Members of the US House would likely serve up to four terms, according to most term limit proponents (eight years), while US Senators would serve two, six year terms. According to the theory, these politicians would serve their time and since it is short, they would hurriedly run back to their home town and go back to contributing to their communities and economies. Unfortunately, the theory doesn't seem to hold up against the harsh realities.
When I use to work for Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-NH) back in the 1980s, I had a surprising experience one day that humorously displays how difficult it is to get traction as a legislator in Washington. I was busy away typing a response to a constituent's question when an exasperated Rudy Boschwith (then, a Senator from Minnesota), flew into the room and with a dazed look, asked where the rest room was. He looked shocked and he acted as though he was going to a public rest room. It wasn't, but one of the many ones in the offices of US Senators for their staff. He was a Senator, I wasn't going to correct him, but the story has drawn many a laugh from other Hill staffers who have enjoyed their own new Member story. What is most amazing is that this happened in 1983. Boschwitz had been in the Senate for five years and still didn't know where the rest rooms were.

I know tons of stories like this. There is the new Congressman who told M. Stanton Evans how much he enjoyed his articles with Robert Novak (wrong Evans). I also cannot forget the member who insisted on not wearing her Congressional pin and expected every member of the Capital Hill police to recognize her. The list continues. My contention is simple, Congressional bureaucrats would rule Capitol Hill and Members of Congress would largely blindly follow. The stock of those who represent us would crash, while the unelected bureaucrats would grow in influence.

An even bigger problem is its potential impact on government spending. Take the lowly citizen (whom we will call "Mr. Smith") who decides to run for his state's legislature. It takes an enormous amount of time, energy, and money to get elected. Upon getting to the House, he realizes he wants to do more and help more people, and do it without the pressure of having to run again every two years. He gets elected to his state Senate and before he knows it, Smith wants to put his sights on the US House in Washington, DC. Once he gets there, he notes the new term limits and he knows that eight years will be here in no time and he immediately begins to focus on statewide office... the US Senate, Governor, or other office. In order to have “a name” through out the state and favors to bear, Mr. Smith will send pork to the entire state from day one. As candidates feel forced to run for higher office, they will feel forced to share the wealth.

Instead of solving the "power problem" common in Washington, term limits will likely make it worse. Since the problem is power, solutions should be found in the way they govern. This could be seen in "super majorities" required for new taxes and spending, sunset commissions that require all spending bills to be reevaluated every two years, required changes in both committees and chairmen over certain time frames (this would certainly disrupt the influence of lobbyists). Most importantly, such reforms would address the real problem, which is power and not the length of time they are in office.

Power limits, not term limits, is the right answer to government out of control. They should be the priority for anyone who is serious about getting government under control.
Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business, the longest running show on AM 650 (M-F at 11 am) in Houston, Texas and on AOL Radio. Eric Bolling of Fox News and Fox Business says that Price’s Blog “is very influential and moves the blogosphere.” Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal calls Price the “best business talk show host in the country.” Find out why and visit his blog at www.BizPlusBlog.com and his show site at www.PriceofBusiness.com. You can also find Price on Strategy Room at FoxNews.com.

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Anonymous Dave Smith said...

I have to disagree with you on this one, Kevin. That is one of the excuses that entrenched incumbents use, but it hasn't been borne out in the state and local governments that have enacted limits. Also, one can make a pretty convincing case that no person in government has more to keep up with than the President, and while there are always a few rocky incidents at the beginning of a new term, it overall isn't a problem. Nor does it seem to be much of a problem for new Congressmen like Ted Poe, who hit the ground running, or senators like John Cornyn, already in the Senate leadership. Elect competent people, and they will act competently.

Also, I've heard the argument that this would make lobbyists more powerful, along the same lines. Again, a canard. Bring more people through the system for a shorter time, and they will rely less on lobbyists, not more, and they will have less time to accumulate the power that makes them even more valuable to a particular special interest.

Enact term limits for Congress, keep the ones on the President, and I would put limits on the Supreme Court as well.

One other thing we should do is dramatically increase the number of Congressional districts. This would bring Representatives closer to the people and help make their races less expensive. I'd like some sort of restriction on gerrymandering as well, but I'm not sure how best to do it. We could easily handle 750-800 Reps (England has nearly 700 and it has 20% the population of the US).

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Dave Smith said...

One other advantage to term limits: legislators would be forced to actually live under the laws they write.

4:04 PM  

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