Term Limits Have Problems of Their Own



Earlier this year Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Representative Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) proposed a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of both chambers of Congress. Under their proposal senators would be limited to serving two six-year terms, and House members would be limited to three two-year terms.

Although the recent proposal is getting more attention, with President Trump renewing a push for term limits that he brought up on the campaign trail, the idea is certainly not new, and similar proposals have been made over the past couple decades. Supporters of congressional term limits point to hyper-partisanship in Congress and an inability to get things done in the nation’s capital as reasons why they are necessary.

While there is certainly a problem in Washington regarding legislative gridlock, term limits are not a good solution and would cause problems of their own. Forcing legislators to retire after two or three terms forces individuals to move on in their political careers just as they are gaining the experience necessary to effectively legislate.

Michigan is a prime example of this problem; staffers and lobbyists are often far more knowledgeable about issues than state legislators. The result has been an increase in reliance on and influence of lobbyists in Lansing. Term limiting legislators means throwing out the good with the bad; setting an arbitrary limit on the years one can serve in Congress means that even the most effective lawmakers can only have a limited impact.

Enacting congressional term limits would also sway the balance of power further toward the executive branch. The executive branch has become the most powerful of the three branches of government at the federal level, and presidents in today’s age wield far more power than they did at the time of the nation’s founding. Much of this is due to the fact that Congress has repeatedly delegated some of its powers to the executive branch, but a significant reason why the president has so much power lies in the nature of the presidency itself—a single individual as head of state can more effectively influence public opinion than an individual legislator who is one among hundreds can.

Ultimately, the Constitution already has a mechanism for limiting congressional representatives’ time in office—elections. Yes, it is true that incumbents typically have a significantly greater chance of winning reelection than a challenger has at defeating an incumbent, but the odds certainly are not insurmountable. At the heart of this advantage is the nature of the nation’s campaign finance system, reform of which would have a much more direct impact on improving the functionality of government than the institution of arbitrary term limits.

Proponents of congressional term limits may point at presidential term limits as proof of their necessity, but the two are not analogous; the sway and influence that one individual has over the electorate as head of state is vastly more significant than that of an incumbent legislator.

The current system is certainly not perfect, but congressional term limits is not a viable solution to gridlock in the US Capitol.

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