Rand Paul is a vocal advocate of term limits for all members of Congress. In fact, he wants term limits badly enough to co-sponsor a Constitutional amendment limiting all members of Congress to a 12-year term of service. For members of the House, that would be six terms. For Senators, it would be two. But what are Republicans’ motivations behind term limits?
On his website, Paul says what many supporters of term limits think about members of Congress being able to stay in office for life, as long as they keep getting re-elected:
Long term incumbency leads to politicians who seem to care more about what is best for their career than what is best for their country. With each successive term, politicians grow more and more distant from the people. It is time to put an end to the profession of ‘career politician,’ and impose limits on how many times a member is allowed to seek re-election.
The Blaze said that more than 30 Republicans have already gone on record this year with their own support for term limits. They all seem to take different angles to the idea, and they’ve received varying levels of support. While a few proposals are very tough, creating hard limits that permanently ban people from their office once they’ve served their term, others want to simply require a break before someone can run for office again.
It sounds great. Make them work for the people again by disallowing them to become entrenched with the special interests. However, one reason Republicans trumpet term limits is because they see them as a way to replace the current legislature’s makeup with their own stock. In 2012, The New York Times said that Tea Partiers in Texas picked an odd time to start supporting term limits in Texas, because there’s already a Republican majority there. They also report that term limits were popular with Texas Republicans 20 years ago, when they were looking for ways to oust Democrats from the state legislature.
Democrats, on the other hand, strongly oppose term limits. Illinois Democrats actually sued to prevent term limits and redistricting questions from appearing on the November 2014 ballot. The state managed to elect a Republican governor, but failed to oust the Democratic supermajority in the general assembly. Illinois Republicans, including newly elected Governor Bruce Rauner, could push term limits hard now as a way of reducing the supermajority.
Some economists and political scientists are openly opposed to term limits, also. Crain’s Chicago published an article explaining what’s happened in states that have legislative term limits. What political scientists and economists have found in those real-world examples should be unsettling to supporters of term limits:
- Term limited politicians tend to run unopposed in elections, because would-be candidates simply wait for the incumbent’s term to expire before running;
- Term limits strip the legislature of much-needed experience;
- Term limits neither make legislatures more diverse, nor yield “citizen legislatures.” In other words, term limits do not ensure that our elected representatives are more in touch with us regular people;
- Term limits do not increase competition or decrease campaign spending;
- Term limits can shift too much power the executive branch. Lawmakers who know they won’t be in office very long tend to defer more to their state’s governor;
- Term limits can, however, take power away from lobbyists, since their jobs depend heavily on being able to build trust with lawmakers. That’s a good thing, but there are other ways to reduce lobbyists’ and special interests’ influence over lawmakers.
Certainly, Democrats have their own selfish reasons for opposing term limits for Congress. We’re not blind enough to believe that Democratic politicians are entirely altruistic in this.
For Republicans supporting term limits, though, it would be interesting to see how many of them—like Rand Paul—will refuse to run again after they’ve served the maximum of what they believe their term limits should be. If they do, then perhaps they’re serious. If not, then chalk this up to another underhanded GOP ploy to hold on to power.