Saturday, May 07, 2005

Congressional Terms Limits

Bill C at Brain Droppings had a post on term limits and the line item veto. At the time I read the post, I had still had rattling around in my head the National ID item passed via the Military Appropriations Bill, which, by the way, I am very much disgruntled about. Anyway, I commented at BD to skip the term limits and just kick them all out. Bill C commented back about term limits ... well go read. In writing my response to Bill, it became two pages, so I am posting it here.

I do understand your concerns and I essentially agree with your identification of the problem, if the problem is defined, broadly and simplistically speaking, as the inadequate safeguards against big government. And while I can appreciate the argument for term limits, after all, I was an early proponent of the measure, I did not wish to have term limits for the purpose you suggest. I wanted it just as a punish for the high and mighty who think they can live forever as the givers of benefits even though I recognize it is the safeguard most damaging to our interests of better government.

I don't think term limits will do anything to solve the problem for a host of reasons. But let me touch on the reasons while it is bad. One, it gets rid of those that know the most about how government works. Example: when you get in a grocery cash out line, do you want to be served by the veteran cashier who knows what to do when the product doesn't scan or the receipt tape has reached it's end, or closed the cash drawer too soon, or do you want to be served by the newbie. Term limits also gets rid of those with the most experience on what will work and what won't. Example: One day long after my Dad retired he got a call from a colleague. I over heard his answer, which was to check a couple of subjects and rough dates for the report. I asked him about it and he explained that a new boss was asking about a new idea he had had which was really an old idea and the boys at work were sure it had been tried, they just couldn't find the evidence. My Dad went on to note he'd been getting the calls for about two years. Term limits are bad. The question then is: Do the advantages outweigh these disadvantages?

The problem in looking at the advantages: are they really advantages? Here's the ones you note with my thoughts:

You mention flooding the lobbyist market with employees. This would work if you could achieve overwhelming of demand, thus suppressing price such that other pursuits, primarily productive work, look more profitable. I don't think it will work -- too many opportunities and new markets for lobbying, primarily because nothing has been done to stifle the giving end (gov't) that is promoting the getting end (special interests.) I won't touch the issue of the merging of the think tank occupational structure with the NGO's with the campaign funding type of revenue structure which parallels the business lobbying industry.

You say you are convinced that the demand side of campaign financing (corrupting influence) is why representatives are advocates of big government and that it drags them from the proper pursuit of responsible government. I will admit it exacerbates it, I think it is only a small fraction of the problem. The problem overshadowing this is that it is inherent in the position and because of that, it attracts it's adherents. Those who have an affinity for addressing problems independently of government, don't go into government service, they go into something else. Those who have the affinity for solving the problems with government solutions, go into government. It has nothing to do with money. If you got rid of any and all monetary influences, the halls of capitals would be filled with dedicated do-goodie volunteers who believe in government solutions and this will have the same effect.

Let me belabor this with one example and nothing speaks more to the problem of corruption inherent in the system we have than the story of Crockett entitled "Not Yours To Give." It has infected the system from fixing my the handicap ramp on the street corner TWO different times right down to rec centers with swimming pools and nature tails, both with a plaque for the Rep who gave them the money.

And the system is now a network of behemoths with a tangled web of symbiotic arteries feeding on each other and continuing to grow. Here in NY, the state has mandated schools within an inch of the local municipalities' deaths. One result was high taxes on property, hurting the elderly. Their solution was the STAR program -- rebates for those hurt by high property taxes. It wasn't sufficient; it didn't sate the needs of those not covered and fed the envy. It was expanded but still not enough. Now, a rebate is included for at least one home for almost everyone. One requirement: prove you need it by giving your local government a copy of your tax return to prove the need. The nice thing is now pretty much everyone is inside the system and no one outside. Another tentacle sufficiently connected. It is the same relationship for states vis-a-vis the feds.

In 1966, they unified the budget to mask a deficit bumping up against the tolerance point for representatives to supply their business product. It's a monopolistic corporation with an oligopolistic holding company of monopolistic divisions. Okay, maybe I go too far. But the structural business problem remains regardless of how fast you cycle the employees or how big the turnover rate is in the business, particularly if you leave among the qualifications for employment the requirement that the applicant be interested in this line of work.

Careers are defined by interests. Those following careers are attracted because of that interest. It's not necessarily the money or the power. Poets and historians did not invent arithmetic, those interested in counting did. When they did all they could with that they invented more ways to play with counting and numbers. When they reached an upper limit of decimal math, they invented other systems to play with. To some extent they would this whether there was monetary incentive or not and that occupation would be populated by those interested in counting.

There's no check on thrill of spending money because there is no check on need. There's no check on the government to do the spending because there is practically no check on the thrill of power to do it. Term limits is not much more than kicking people off a hugely popular roller-coaster ride at the end of each run. There's always more thrill seekers.

I what have I left out to keep me from wrapping this up. Let me think. Oh, addressing campaign financing doesn't affect the power. The power is the problem. It's unchecked and we are so beholden to having the government provide solution after solution after solution, we've trained ourselves to open the door to that path, the easiest door to open to get to our destination than the other doors. Everyone knows that door leads to the most inefficient and least effective path to our destination, in addition to it infringing on our freedoms the least. That is why the Constitution listed, and limited, the reasons to use that door. That door is so easy to open now and because operating both the door and the pathway is now a business, one with the most power and the ability to bring a product to market we don't look for other doors and no one else thinks to compete. It's gotten to the point where even the only other industry able to do things that can't be done otherwise, charities, don't bother much to compete but just go to the door and take that path.

The power is too great. That's the source of the problem. That's what needs to be checked.

I'm done rambling now. :-)


3 Creaks:

Blogger Bill C creaked ...

Dusty,

You have a lot of well thought out aruguments that I am going to respond to in bite sized chunks. First, I want to address the loss of experience argument. I do not think it is that important. For one, I think either you or I could make a effective congressman with a little study of Robert's rules of parliamentary procedure. If we don't know what is going on then we do what your Dad's colleagues did, call someone with knowledge/experience. What will happen is that the parties will become more important and congressional staff might become more important. I don't see a problem with either outcome because it does not stand in the way of the overall goal of creating a legislature that thinks less of reelection and fundraising.

5/08/2005 1:46 PM  
Blogger Dusty creaked ...

Good counter-points on the different aspects of experience, Bill. I do have some deeper concerns regarding a shift to reps with lesser experience, but I'll wait a little bit before responding so I do not create a mis-mash of comments on the wide range of issues made.

5/08/2005 3:18 PM  
Blogger Bill C creaked ...

With regards to flooding the market with ex-politicians, I think you are right about the lobbying business being able to absorb the surplus who will lose their jobs due to term limits. I think the better argument is that term limits have the best chance of changing the mindset of legislators from being careerists who use gov't largesse to further their career to people who serve gov't and leave. I think a 12 year limit is reasonable. That would mean a maximum of two elections for Senators and 6 for Representatives. Further I would say that 18 years in Washington is enough.

With seats changing hands more often you will attract people who are interested in good governance. More importantly, it will be more difficult to make a career of being a politician. Take a look at John Kerry for example. He can shake down anyone he wants for campaign contributions which he might funnel to his family in return for make work jobs. With the high rate of reelection it would be dangerous to anger an imcumbant. If one person cannot hold a senate seat for more than 12 years that senator has only a limited value to a lobbyist. If they win their second election they are a lame duck who doesn't need to collect anymore campaign contributions. (Make it illegal for lame ducks to solicit campaign contributions) Then that politician will be free to think of the big picture rather than getting more pork or vanity projects done for their district.

5/08/2005 5:12 PM  

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