The Corner

The Case for Committee Term Limits

Another way in which the Democrats’ new House rules consolidate power in the hands of the already-powerful is the abolition of committee term limits, and this has received some ink. Republicans established the term limits after the 1994 revolution in order to end the legislative culture of backroom dealing by entrenched insiders.

In response, Democrats have argued that the term-limits only encouraged members to compete for chairmanships by raising lots of campaign money, and that this somehow corrupts the system further. Hoyer argued for it in this way:

I understand that our Republican colleagues once wrote term limits into the rules in an effort against entrenched power. But it is now clear that that effort fell victim to what conservatives like to call the law of unintended consequences: With chairmanships up for grabs so frequently, fundraising ability became one of the most important job qualifications, and legislative skill was sacrificed to political considerations.

Although the term-limits may not have worked as well as anyone hoped, it is hard to see how a return to “chairmen for life” improves anything. It offers the House’s most powerful members a permanent platform from which to extort campaign contributions from the industries they regulate. At best, this is a choice between six of one or half a dozen of the other in terms of the integrity of the campaign finance system. And so one has to believe that this change is motivated by concerns other than those cited.

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