On Tuesday June 18, 2019, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would place term limits on members serving in Congress. This is one of the most commonly advanced congressional reform ideas. But despite its popularity among congressional reformers, term limits would do little to combat monied interests in Congress, and would instead hamper its ability to function as the First Branch of government.
In a new policy study, R Street Governance Senior Fellow, Casey Burgat explores why this is such a popular idea and the downsides of implementation.
While term limits make sense in theory, they would actually increase congressional reliance on special interest groups. More inexperienced members would turn over often, which would only empower unelected bureaucrats and the Executive Branch. In addition, research has found that term limits would decrease member accountability to their constituents and, given the number of safe one-party districts, they would likely only worsen the polarization present in Congress.
The author adds, “Put simply, term limits have proven to be a brain drain on legislatures. Policymaking is a hard job and an often thankless one at that. There are very few easy, clear-cut decisions in Congress, and policy alternatives are often fraught with unintended consequences that surface long after initial votes. Experience and effectiveness are entwined […] Experienced legislators therefore should be welcomed rather than ushered away from the institution where they can do the most good.”