Senator Ted Cruz announced on Tuesday that he and Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis (R) have proposed a joint resolution calling for term limits in Congress.
The resolution stipulated that no representative should serve more than three terms (a total of six years), and that no senator should serve more than two (a total of 12 years).
When the overall Congressional approval rating typically flounders in the ten percent ballpark (it's currently a respectable 14.3%, according to RealClearPolitics), term limits may seem like a good idea. If things are this bad, then obviously forcing them to change would have to be better.
And there certainly would be some benefits to term limits. New blood, new ideas, and new perspectives are often advantages when it comes to solving problems. Sometimes all it takes is one fresh viewpoint to see what needs to be changed in order to make a policy or program succeed.
Proponents of term limits cite the sage advice often attributed to Mark Twain: “Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.”
But there is one important thing that many of those advocating for term limits seem to have forgotten: we already have a means in place to limit the tenure of politicians. It's called an election.
Every two, four, or six years, Americans go to the polls and vote. And if we believe that any of our representatives — from the local level on up to the federal level — have outlasted their usefulness, we have the opportunity to replace them.
Term limits would force us to replace all of them — even the ones who are doing a good job — and would only be effective if they could guarantee that the electorate would choose more wisely when they were forced to vote new people in than when they simply had the option to vote the bad ones out.
In addition, term limits in Congress create a whole new additional problem: a host of simultaneous lame ducks with nothing left to lose.
Since President Obama became a “lame duck” president in early November, he has pushed ahead with a number of regulations and executive orders. He unilaterally retaliated against Russia for “election interference.” And because he doesn't have to worry about running for re-election, public opinion no longer keeps his actions in check.
If Congress succeeds in setting limits, the electorate would have very little leverage with which to hold their congressman accountable for one-third of their time in office and senators for half of their time in the Senate.
That accountability — which is part of what ensures that our representatives work for us and not for themselves (or for the lobbyists who offer the best swag) — would disintegrate even more rapidly for those who had no plans to ever seek higher office.