In the 1990s, term limits were a wildly popular idea in Republican circles, though the party’s proposals struggled in the courts and ultimately faded from the GOP’s list of priorities.
Evidently, Sen. Ted Cruz hopes to renew the same debate. The Texas Republican introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to create term limits this week, and argued in a written statement:
“Term limits are critical to fixing what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. The Founding Fathers envisioned a government of citizen legislators who would serve for a few years and return home, not a government run by a small group of special interests and lifelong, permanently entrenched politicians who prey upon the brokenness of Washington to govern in a manner that is totally unaccountable to the American people. Terms limits brings about accountability that is long overdue and I urge my colleagues to advance this amendment along to the states so that it may be quickly ratified and become a constitutional amendment.”
Under Cruz’s plan, senators would only be allowed to serve two six-year terms, while House members would be limited to three two-year terms. As of this morning, the measure has 11 Republican co-sponsors.
Realistically, the proposed amendment, which would require the support of two-thirds majorities in both chambers, will almost certainly not pass, at least not anytime soon. But it’s worth pausing to appreciate the oddity of the legislation’s existence.
Right off the bat, the idea that term limits would weaken “special interests” is backwards. As we discussed several years ago, forcing experienced policymakers out of office, even if their constituents want to re-elect them, has an unintended consequence: Inexperienced officials inevitably find themselves more dependent on outside groups and lobbyists, who are only too pleased to lend their expertise.
There’s also an underlying principle to consider: There’s simply no reason for the federal government to impose arbitrary constraints on voters’ ability to choose their own members of Congress — constraints that punish popular, experienced officials for being popular and experienced.
We already have term limits; they’re called elections. The mechanism for change was built into the Constitution from the outset: Voters can evaluate their members of Congress when they run for re-election. If the public is satisfied, those lawmakers stay in office. If not, they’re replaced with someone else. The power is where it belongs: in the hands of the electorate. “Accountability,” to borrow Cruz’s term, is already baked into the political cake.
When the government tells you you’re not allowed to re-elect someone you want to support, then the government is too big.
But what I find most extraordinary about this is the amendment’s lead sponsor in the Senate: Cruz will ask Texans to elect him to a third term next year. His own proposal says voters should be barred from electing senators to more than two terms.
In other words, it appears Cruz wants to change the Constitution to prevent voters from re-electing lawmakers like Cruz.