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February 2, 2021

Supporting Congressional Term Limits?

Ted Cruz’s idea has some serious drawbacks that everyone should consider.

Congressional term limits have again become a cause célèbre among those seeking to win the support of grassroots Patriots for higher office. In one sense, the push is very understandable because our Founders desired citizen legislators, not just professional ones. But the man leading the charge, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, is placing a risky bet to bring America closer to constitutional practices. In reality, Cruz’s proposal for a limit of three terms in the House of Representatives and two terms in the Senate will have some unintended but drastic adverse consequences.

Before folks get too invested in the approach championed by Cruz, they need to keep in mind that fond hopes do not always materialize. To illustrate, we’re reminded of some particularly notorious pre-game comments in not-too-distant National Football League history. In November 2007, Todd Sauerbrun, a punter and kickoff specialist for the Denver Broncos, publicly announced his intent to not kick away from Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears, who had arguably laid claim to being the greatest return specialist of all time by the end of his second year in the NFL. It didn’t go well.

For the record, here’s how Sauerbrun’s plan worked out: Hester took a punt back 75 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. After a Broncos score in that same quarter, Hester returned the following kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. To put it bluntly, Sauerbrun’s faith in his teammates had some unintended adverse effects on his team, which lost the game thanks in part to Hester’s returns, and his career in the NFL, which ended after that season.

In the same way Sauerbrun had faith in his teammates’ ability to tackle Hester, Cruz is placing a lot of faith in citizen legislators to bring America closer to constitutional practices. But what is likely to happen is far different than what the hopes were. In reality, Cruz’s proposed term limits will have some unintended but drastic adverse consequences.

One of the consequences is the fact that, in general, they will result in a massive shift of power from elected lawmakers to unelected bureaucrats, lobbyists, and the legislative staffers. During Donald Trump’s administration, bureaucrats undermined him, usurped policymaking power that belonged to elected officials, and engaged in multiple abuses at the federal and state levels. This should warn against shifting power away from elected lawmakers.

If there is one thing bureaucrats know, it’s how to be dilatory and to obstruct any sort of progress. Does anyone think encouraging that behavior is a good idea?

Furthermore, with the constant inflow of new members of Congress, power would shift outside government to lobbyists, who would have far more time and experience discussing various issues than the lawmakers they’re talking to. In addition, staffers will have a lot more influence because, after all, lawmakers will be gone in the not-too-distant future, so they will be more likely to cater to lobbyists and bureaucrats as they seek a more stable paycheck in the public policy arena.

That power shift is just one negative. Another is the fact that it wouldn’t just clean out Congress of the likes of Maxine Waters; it would also have prematurely ended the career of Orrin Hatch after the 1988 election. Does anyone think that absent Hatch’s efforts we’d have Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court? Hatch, thanks to his longevity, played key roles in the confirmation of four other justices as well. Do we throw out the good lawmakers with the bad?

Term limits are a feel-good measure that is held out as a way to rid us of bad career politicians. But there is already something that offers grassroots Patriots a chance to oust bad politicians: elections. Perhaps the effort pushing a constitutional amendment that may never pass would be better focused on the hard political work to replace bad politicians with good ones, often by changing the minds of our fellow Americans.

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