I received the following email from a family member today.
Congressional Reform Act of 2011
1. Term Limits.
12 years only, one of the possible options below.
A. Two Six-year Senate terms
B. Six Two-year House terms
C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms
2. No Tenure /No Pension.
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
3. Congress (past, present and future) participates in Social Security.
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.
4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12.
Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.
If you look at the politics of states where term limits have been enacted, you might see why this is a terrible idea. Michigan and California in particular have screwed themselves over with term limits. One of the effects is that politicians can’t afford patience–they have to get their policies enacted right now or never, so they all push their proposals as hard as possible at exactly the same time.
Another effect is to increase the influence of lobbyists. I asked a lobbyist in California once how term limits had affected them. Her reply was that they had to work harder to get to know the representatives and senators, since they had greater turnover, but that since nearly all of them came in with no idea of how the legislative process even worked, and very little substantive knowledge about particular policies, they needed expert advice from the get-go, and the lobbyists were in a position to provide that advice.
A better solution is to ban gerrymandering of districts. Have non-partisan redistricting commissions whose mandate is to maximize the number of competitive districts in their state. That will pull the national politicians back toward the center, where they can actually work together instead of being afraid to even approach the center isle. That proposal I would readily forward to other people.
Some of the ideas in that proposal might be ok, but the heart of it, term limits, is just a damned foolish idea that has only served to degrade the governance of states where it’s been enacted. Really, at this point, who in their right mind wants to follow the example set by California?
And the proposal assumes that pure citizen legislators would get into office. But in my own state legislative district when the former office-holder was term-limited out, we replaced him with one of his own staff members. plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Or consider the GOP’s current VP candidate, Paul Ryan. No citizen legislator he, he served as a staffer on Capitol Hill, became a speechwriter for an advocacy organization, then a speechwriter for a presidential candidate, then as a congressional staffer again. Is there really any hope that term limits would empower average citizens against people with that kind of love for political participation?
I’m really quite serious about maximizing the number of competitive districts. There’s no doubt that representatives from gerrymandered districts are quite responsive to and representative of their constituents’ interests, and that it’s actually harder to be responsive and representative to a more heterogeneous constituency. But if we think about who the median voter is, I want districts where the median voter is closer to the center, so that the median Congressmember is closer to the center, rather than districts where the median voters are well to the left or well to the right of center, resulting in a bimodal distribution of Congressmembers in which the concept of the median member becomes an irrelevancy. And it’s not that I’m at the median, by any means. A legislature that functions well and pivots on the median voter will do far too many things I would prefer it not do. But a country that finds a coherent center will in general be both better governed and more politically and social stable than one that doesn’t.