Kevin Price
Congressional term limits may make you feel better, but will not solve power problem
By Kevin Price
July 21, 2009

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


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Kevin Price

Kevin Price is Publisher and Editor in Chief of

His background is eclectic and includes years of experience in both business and public policy, as well as two decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He was an aide to U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-NH) and later went on to work in policy areas with some of the nation's leading think tanks including the National Center for Public Policy Research and was part of the Heritage Foundation's Annual Guide to Public Policy Experts... (more)


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