He’s not a Senator from Maryland (sucks to be us), but Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) came back on my radar screen last week when he promised to introduce a Constitutional amendment to establish Congressional term limits. Here, from his Senate website blog, he further explains his reasoning.
The people of South Carolina have given me the privilege of representing them in Congress for more than 10 years now, and over that period I’ve learned a great deal about how things work in Washington. One of the more unfortunate things I’ve come to realize is that Congress has the power to corrupt even those with the most honorable intentions. Too often, I‘ve seen good, honest citizen legislators come to Washington only to realize that in Congress, you either conform to the system or find yourself on the outside looking in. As a result, the American people are left with more “career politicians” who go along to get along in Congress, and end up beholden to special interests, lobbyists, and big government policies.
Though there is no simple solution to this trend, there is a clear place to start: term limits. With term limits, we can put an end to the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach to legislating, and begin enacting responsible legislation that is in the best interest of our nation. As a result, I will soon be introducing a constitutional amendment limiting current and future members of Congress to serving three terms (six years) in the House and two terms (12 years) in the Senate.
Let’s face it, Washington has become far more powerful than any one person or party. If we want to change the policies, we must first change the process. By imposing term limits, we can ensure frequent turnover which allows for new ideas and fresh perspectives in Congress. Additionally, term limits will keep politicians in-tune with their constituents and less focused on pleasing those who promise to help get them re-elected.
While term limits are certainly a step in the right direction, they are not enough. I sincerely hope my amendment will be ratified, and then be followed by other structural reforms that make our public institutions more transparent and accountable. The American people deserve congressmen who fight to give them a voice rather than fight for their personal power and success. If the people want new policies and real reform, it’s not enough to change the congressmen — we must change Congress itself.
It’s a start. But over the decades, part of the reason Congress shifted from a short-term proposition to become lifetime employment was the increasing role Fedzilla played in our lives. Our Revolution-era forefathers could have scarcely imagined a government budget in the trillions or a bureaucracy in charge of education, agriculture, labor, or health and human services. Returning to a government which functions in a Constitutional manner would likely remove the incentive for politicians to increase their hot air quotient.
Many don’t recall this, but back in 1994 several Republicans who signed the Contract With America also pledged not to serve more than a few terms in office. While some backtracked on their pledge and others were removed in subsequent votes, those who promised to leave and did are worthy of emulation. But you’ll notice that Democrats rarely (if ever) make a similar pledge. Why is that?
There is a nobility and a sacrifice in public service, but most who engage in that craft do so far from the public eye (or at least far from the unblinking media spotlight) and don’t mind at all – just ask your neighbor who’s a volunteer fireman or who served in the military. You may not even be aware they so serve.
Obviously those who choose politics have to engage the public a little more frequently because they seek election every few years. Yet those who deign to create our laws have also created myriad opportunities to enrich themselves at the public trough, and much of the impetus behind TEA Parties and term limits comes from seeing your Congressman finagling the system to give himself a raise without voting for it, or seeing him reward friends or colleagues from the public till. It’s not something which is limited to a single party or group, but the solution lies partly in limiting their time in office and partly by eliminating incentive to stick grubby fingers in the pie by decreasing its size.
To me, cutting the size of government deserves not just lip service but action. One step in the right direction would be to enact term limits, but the other, more important step is to promote accountability in government. It’s there that, try as he might to fight it, DeMint’s colleagues fall well short of the mark.