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Minyan Mailbag: The Congressional Term-Limit Debate

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There sure are some smart Minyans out there.

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Editor's Note: Minyanville is a community of people who share an interest in fiscal literacy. As perspective is an important aspect of our daily routine, we share this exchange with hopes that it adds balance to your process.

Mr Succo,

I have to disagree within your stated consequence of congressional Term Limits. I do not believe that Term Limits will reduce the stagnation and irresponsibility; I believe it will make things worse.

With term limits, the only groups with knowledge of the process, as well as consistency across terms, will be the party apparatus and the lobbyists. No individual will be able to truly establish a constituency, or even a point of view. What will happen is the party "apparatchik" and the lobbyists will remain the same, and will assume even more control of their party members - as is happening in California right now.

Under such a system, compromise is virtually impossible: there is nothing to win by breaking with your party.

Term Limits do not give you any more control over your representative than you have now: you don't want'em, don't vote for'em. What Term Limits do is give you power over my choice: I can't vote for the representative I want because you feel s/he has been in too long.

Remember, when California voted for Term Limits, they also returned 94% of incumbents to office - clearly, they didn't want to get rid of their representatives, just yours.

The stagnation of power has more to do with the expense of campaigning and influencing elections than it has to do with terms-in-office. If we could break the power of the purse-string, we break the power of the lobby. Term Limits, as I lay the case out above, do just the obvious.

Reasonable people can reasonably disagree; this influences your point of view.

Minyan Tracy

Tracy,

First, it looks like we agree on the problem. That's a good start.

Second, I agree that my solution is not perfect; every change has intended and unintended consequences. I will give you an inch in my argument; let's see what we can do with it.

I agree that my "solution" leaves the political apparatus with more experience and knowledge of the system than one-time representatives. But part of the problem may be that our elected officials over time begin to know and use that process for their own benefit. Knowledge of the system can be a good thing and a bad thing.

Secure in the fact that they will only be in one term will reduce temptation to use the system for their own benefit and increase their motivation to make long term choices for the benefit of the country. The political apparatus may have the "knowledge," but not the control. I agree that representatives will have less chance to "establish a constituency" (is that bad?), but do not agree that they will not be able to "establish a point of view."

There is "nothing to win by breaking with your party," but also there is nothing to lose. Which is more powerful?

Do we want "control" over our representatives? Our democracy works well I think because it is the "representative" form of government. And remember, it is not that "I can't vote for the representative that I want because you feel they have been in too long," it is a rule of law. There is a big difference I think: it becomes equitable over time. And there is a big difference between "term-limits" and one term. With one term there is no wiggle room.

And lastly, I agree that the problem is about purse-strings, but after watching how these people work and the way they are able to water-down any "small changes" attempting to address the problem (a problem they do not want corrected), I see no real alternative in trying to cut those purse strings. You object to my solution, but don't provide one.

I welcome the discourse; this is how grass-roots gets started. We should all be open-minded to a solution to what is perhaps the greatest governmental problem facing our country.

-John

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