Politics & Policy

A Renewed Case for Term Limits

(James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)
Time to fire everyone in Washington, D.C.

After a week of political chaos, endless dispatches of depressing news from the border, and widespread evidence of years of government incompetence, I have a proposal certain to unite citizens of all political stripes. Here it is: Let’s fire every single politician in Washington, D.C.

Admit it, friends: Deep down, you love this plan. In an ideal world, you might want to fire every single politician in Washington, D.C., right away — I personally have a few honorable and notable exceptions in mind, but it’s probably best to keep everyone on their toes — but we all know that’s not realistic. Fortunately, there’s an alternative idea that is at least somewhat realistic, despite naysayers from both parties: term limits.

We already have term limits for the president, of course, which I hope you find marvelous no matter who is in office. But what about Congress, that multi-headed beast with a 17 percent approval rating and an impressive penchant for getting almost nothing meaningful or important done?

“We already have term limits for Congress,” the standard objection goes. “They’re called elections!” To which I respond: How’s that working out for you?

Witness the past few weeks, in which America watched an anti-humanitarian debacle ratchet up on our southern border. As a reflexive response, a sizable proportion of our helpful politicians in Washington, D.C. — you know, the people who supposedly work for you — moaned and groaned and postured and pointed fingers and basically claimed that fixing the problem was some other person’s job.

President Trump declared that his hands were tied when it came to family separation, saying Congress needed to address the issue. Longtime congressional dwellers such as Democratic senator Chuck Schumer demurred, arguing that actual legislation (i.e., his job) would be a real pain in the rear when Trump could simply sign an executive order and “end this crisis with the flick of his pen.” Meanwhile, after some brief hemming and hawing, congressional Republicans came up with various legislative fixes. This led to Senator Schumer’s tacit admission — an admission that would be startling if you haven’t followed politics long enough to be jaded — that actually fixing things and helping kids were far lower on his priority list than keeping “the focus” on Trump.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of people clamored for a presidential executive order. This is an unfortunate habit, but it is also apparently the way we do things these days. Executive orders are messy and easily derailed. If you value checks and balances and the separation of powers, the trendiness of executive orders should bring you at least occasional bouts of dismay — again, no matter who is in power. But, oh well, whatever, never mind: On Wednesday, Trump somehow managed to sign an order while his hands were allegedly tied — an order that could then easily “be tied up in lengthy court battles,” noted the New York Times. There it is, folks: Government by the flick of the pen.

Which brings us back to Congress, an entity that specializes in obfuscation but repeatedly makes at least one thing clear: its inability to perform the most basic of jobs. Whatever solution Congress does or doesn’t work out when it comes to our sad and contentious immigration status quo, two resounding and important truths remain. The first is this: Today’s United States Congress is filled with enough cynicism to rival the La Brea Tar Pits. Here’s the second: The prime motivating behavior behind said cynicism comes from the frantic art of career politicians constantly working for reelection.

This is a recipe for disaster, dysfunction, and the overproduction of short-term symbolic gestures instead of long-term solutions. In short, in Congress, the incentives are all wrong; meanwhile, thanks to the perks of incumbency, the decks are stacked against potential challengers. But what if getting endlessly reelected didn’t matter quite so much? What if people went to Congress not to become a career politician but to actually get things done and then go home?

“But we need expertise in Congress,” another objection goes. The bulk of our current crop of “experts,” of course, show expertise in little outside of slapping together 2,300-page bills that no one even bothers to read. Unfortunately, these bills often impact the lives of Americans on a major scale. Perhaps what we really need is a fresh crop of representatives who understand more about how the world outside the Beltway works.

We managed to get term limits for the presidency. There might be hope for Congress yet.

A bipartisan group of freshman lawmakers — “all 50 years old or younger,” as The Hill reported — are on board. The group, which includes Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher and California Democrat Ro Khanna, supports “limiting senators to two terms and representatives to six terms, for a total of 12 years each. They say the proposal will help fix a broken political system and ensure that new blood and fresh ideas are regularly injected into Congress.”

There’s a catch, of course: Congressional term limits would have to be enacted through a constitutional amendment, which means that our representatives in Congress would have to vote to . . . wait for it . . . term-limit their own careers. Before you fall off your chair in a wild gale of laughter, however, our clever group of freshmen term-limit fans has an answer for even that: “Under their proposal,” The Hill notes, “the new system would be grandfathered in so that it wouldn’t apply to any sitting members of Congress, except for the freshman class.”

Well, well. They certainly know their audience, do they not? Who knows? We managed to get term limits for the presidency. There might be hope for Congress yet.

NOW WATCH: ‘Democrats Refuse to Work With Republicans to Stop Separations’

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