Don't Let Me Stop You

What the heck, you'll do what you want anyway.

Term Limits

Posted by Dan Draney on December 2, 2005

Ryne’s blog has a good debate on Nebraska’s term limits law. Read the main post and then wade into the comments. We’ve written a previous post on DLMSY about the attempt by some senators to get a court to let them force themselves back onto the ballot, and we added a couple of comments in the thread on Ryne’s blog. While we’re not wildly enthusiastic about the Nebraska term limits law, we think it should be obeyed. It might even do some good.

Ryne’s reader, “humean” posted this rather long comment, which we reproduce in full here, interspersed with our own comments. It doesn’t seem to be possible to talk about the Nebraska term limits without digressing into the issue of Congressional term limits. The latter is moot, since the US Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution prohibits the states from enacting term limits on their Congressmen. Since, effectively, that means Congress would have to vote to term-limit itself, we aren’t holding our breath. Humean says:

“I think the problem with all of this anti-incumbent talk (besides lazy apathetic voters) is that legislators on the national scale are hardly beholden to the PEOPLE. No normal person can effectively question or campaign against an incumbent in a 650,000 member congressional district (or for senators, a state of 1.7 million or 33 million). Only a John Corzine can do things like that after making over $100 million selling his soul at Goldman Sachs for a decade or two. Must we be a plutocracy?

By comparison, the UK, Germany, and France all have parliaments where members represent between 90,000 and 140,000 constituents (though Germany has a hybrid system so half of them represent 250,000 person districts and other half are proportional party representatives)

Leaving aside the horrid malrepresentation of the US Senate (17% of the population can form 50% of the Senate!!!), we gotta look at how the ‘people’s house’ has evolved: In 1910 the US House was 435 members, each representing around 200,000 persons (not very different than Fr,Ger,UK above). But now in 2005 it’s still 435 members. And our population has TRIPLED. The US House grew after almost every single census for the 120 years from 1790 to 1910! What happened??

For one thing, lawmakers hate having to dilute ‘their’ power. So they just decided to stop growing the house. There is no reason for congress to stop growing other than: 1. Legislators love their ever concentrated power and 2. Some simple-minded anti-big-government morons probably make remarks like ‘we can’t fit many more representativse inside the building’ or ‘it’s too expensive to have more congressmen’. Spare me.”

We’ll self-identify here as a “simple-minded anti-big-government moron” for full disclosure, although we prefer to be known as “liberalism-challenged.” We’re also no fan of Senator Corzine (D-NJ), but we suspect it’s a good deal easier to hang onto your soul as a Goldman Sachs employee than as a US Senator (not that either job automatically makes you a bad person). We’ll also note that the purpose of the US Senate was to look out for the interests of the states and balance state power as a check against federal power. The direct, popular election of Senators has eroded state power.

We do think humean has a valid point on the issue of the number of people represented by each member of the House, at least to a certain extent. On the other hand, technological advances since then should allow each Rep to serve a larger number of constituents more effectively today vs. the 1910 Congress.

It might well be that more Reps would help make the House members more responsive to the smaller number of people they represent. However, unless other, fundamental things are changed, before too long we would be right back where we are now: Gerrymandering makes sure every encumbent is protected in a carefully-crafted, non-competitive district. The ability to bring home a slice of the pork greases the skids of the re-election sled, and we’re back to virtual lifetime job security for these “public servants.”

Humean continues:

“How about immediately doubling the house and at the same time cutting all staff budgets by 50% which would be more or less a neutral budgetary move and provide the masses with greater access to representatives. Likewise the higher granularity would probably increase the socio-economic and racial diversity of the house. 1,000 legislators are a barely noticable federal expense when we pay for crap like keeping nearly a quarter of a million people overseas, shipping 20 ton tanks, and buying $2.2 billion dollar B2 planes. An enlarged house would do wonders for bringing power closer to the people (and making it harder for special interests to purchase a sizable portion of congress)

Well, perhaps, at least for awhile, although we don’t see any poor people ascending to the Congress in any case. It could also be that twice as many Congressmen seeking special interest money could actually drive down the cost of owning your own by more than 50%. This would allow the purchase of two of the new Congressmen for less than the price of a single, older model. We do agree that the direct cost of the Congress is just a small portion of the budget. However, the indirect cost of the Congress is much higher: the entire budget. Humean continues:

“The gross misrepresentation of the actual electorate by our representatives is primarily a product of:
OUR ‘FOSSILIZED’ US CONSTITUTION (aka ‘the system’)
There’s no public discourse on such fundamentals because we love the notion that our constitution is sooo perfect, but it’s a FACT that the SYSTEM truly matters and our system is a dinosaur. Yeah it’s great to brag that we have hardly changed our constitution in 200 years, but at the same time, that may just indicate we are lazy and unwilling to improve our method of government. Practically the only serious suggestions for amending the constitution come from some self-proclaimed patriots — jack asses wanting to ban burning a worthless piece of dyed cloth.

Any takers?”

At this point it’s no longer possible for us to take humean’s opinions seriously. He seems to be saying the the problem of government corruption is due to the government being insufficiently large and robust. This is plainly nonsense, although sadly not an uncommon view.

Actually, there have been enormous changes to the Constitution since the founding of the US. Many were called “reforms,” but few of these can realistically be called “improvements.” Some were made by the amendment process, but many more were made gradually through the expansion of federal power at the expense of state and individual power. The Courts have permitted, often encouraged this. The Constitution sought to strictly limit the power of government, granting only specificly enumerated powers to the federal government and leaving the rest to the states and the people. Now Justice Thomas is derided as a radical (or in standard liberal manner as a dunce) for taking note of this and suggesting the SCOTUS should take it seriously.

Today Congress constantly passes laws that no one has read, let alone understood. The tax code is massive and incomprehensible, but Congress can’t resist tinkering with it every year. Federal laws and regulations (is there a difference?) reach into essentially every aspect of the day to day activities of businesses and individuals. Broad powers have been delegated to executive branch bureaucrats to write new laws, enforce them, and try the unfortunates caught violating any of the thousands of pages of “regulations” that result. Besides the IRS a business must cope with labrynthine rules from OSHA, Dept. of Labor, EPA, and the DoT to name just a few agencies that can shut you down permanently. Good luck getting a straight, definitive answer from the government to a question about the meaning of a rule. The IRS won’t even stand by the advice it gives taxpayers who call it for help with their returns, and the advice is frequently wrong.

Oppressive, massive government is decried by all and a constant “dystopia” or conspiracy theme in movies, TV, and literature. Properly so. Yet Democrats and Republicans constantly, systematically continue to pile more and more government upon us. Every failure of a government program is an indication of a need for more money or yet another government program or both. Humean’s note is a prime example of this kind of “thinking.”

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