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Term Limits for Congress

Post # 69, Bob McKnight's Subscription Commentary

Clever lobbyists crafted an answer to voter frustration--term limits. They only work if you include all the players--members, lobbyists, and the staff.

A growing mantra among the angry electorate is "Term Limits...Throw Em Out." Viscerally, it makes sense. How could we do worse? Break the system so we can then fix it? The massive retirement benefits voted in by the members of Congress for themselves only adds fuel to the chant.

As a former legislator in a state where we have term limits, I elected to serve a total of 8 years of my own choice. Actually there was a principle involved at the time that I thought important. The Florida Constitution called for the Legislative body to be a "citizens body," encouraging a turnover of fresh people and thinking. I think that calls for 8 years of service.

Those who want to apply the same term limits to members of Congress are finding a different situation that I encountered at the state level:

1. The U.S. Constitution set up Congress as a governance body that benefits from length of service, tradition, and precedent. The responsibilities are so vast and the impact so critical, including the Declaration of War, that we could not afford to have constant turn over among the members. Critics will argue that may be true if there were not corruption and cronyism. They are right.

2. There are typically 3 key players among lawmaking--the members, staff, and the lobbyists. If you limit the members only, the other two players step into the seat of power. We all know the adage, "knowledge is power." Staff and lobbyists then have more power than the members, and I would argue that is the case today anyway, with an Administration without a record of public service.

3. If one accepts that our Congress is corrupt and needs drastic corrective action, you could pass a law with term limits, but you should also required all lobbyists to be certified covering similar term limits. Since the staff are employees, you could make term limits part of their employment terms.

Term limits are basically a response to anger. In a Democracy, the people rule. If they feel they are not being represented, they should change their representatives. That could include the terms of the representative, but care should be taken so the problem is not made worse.

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