The Instigator
The_Silent_Consensus
Pro (for)
Winning
18 Points
The Contender
clsmooth
Con (against)
Losing
10 Points

Congressional Term Limits

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/23/2008 Category: Politics
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 9,111 times Debate No: 2877
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (1)
Votes (8)

 

The_Silent_Consensus

Pro

Over the past year, conviction after conviction has gone on with regards to congress members and corruption. New ethics reform measures have been proposed and passed, which are all good. Things such as enforcing disclosure of lobbyist activity, banning lobbyist gifts and travels, prohibiting "dead of night" special interest provisions, etc... are good starts. However, all those proposals are the kite without the string. The string is CONGRESSIONAL TERM LIMITS. As long as elected officials have an incentive to think about the next election rather than the next generation, an inherent conflict of interest exists.

The first argument I tend to hear against term limits is, "We have term limits. They're called elections. If we're dissatisfied, we can always vote them out." Well guess what the reelection rate is in the House and Senate. 55%? 60%? 75%? 90%?

Even though Congress changed majorities last year, the senate re-election rate was still over 80%, and the house re-election rate was still over 90%. Notice that in the Senate (I'm unsure about the House), the longest serving people easily got re-elected. It's not necessarily because all those people deserved re-election. The reason for that high re-election rate is that the incumbents have a huge advantage just by being incumbents. Think of it like teacher tenure: unless if they do something really over the line, they're safe

Voter apathy is the biggest reason. Voters are tired of long ballots, so they just go down and vote for a name they've heard of that they are just indifferent to. Unless they are extremely dissatisfied, they vote for the status quo. All incumbents have to do is remain acceptable to indifferent voters. Imagine if you just had to remain acceptable to your employer, and you would get a promotion or a pay raise.

One may say, "well that's not fair, the voters are letting them keep the same job, not promoting them." Well, when congress members get reelected a few times, they pretty much earn the right, by seniority, to serve on committees, which helps guarantee even more reelections. Plus, they can vote for their own pay raise. So in a sense, they are being promoted just for remaining acceptable to their voters.

Granted, we could try fixing this problem by making it easier for voters to be informed and understand what's going on.

Now one may be saying, if we enact term limits, how will we determine who sits on committees? Well, do businesses promote people solely based on how long they've been there? Do students get better grades in school just based on how long they've been there? No. These things get determined by merit. Get a group of people together, even strangers. It won't take too long for them to realize who the leaders are and who is most competent in certain areas. More often than not, they choose correctly, and that's a better way to determine than by seniority.

Granted, we could fix this problem by prohibiting committee appointments based on seniority

Another thing that keeps the voters "happy" with their representative is something called pork. More importantly, the funding is not acquired through the federal competitive system. It is snuck in the bill and is never exposed when being voted for.

But, we can fix that by outlawing pork barrel spending and requiring a balanced budget.

Another incumbent advantage is when Congress draws its own district lines. That way, politicians choose their own voters. I thought voters were supposed to choose politicians. If one looks at the congressional map, it is a jigsaw puzzle because of this. Now granted, this can easily be fixed with making an independent panel draw the lines, which I support. However, singling out the incumbent advantage on this problem is narrow-minded, and I just wanted to be sure I addressed this problem

Granted that can easily be fixed by making an independent panel draw the lines.

If we enact these reforms, why would we need term limits? As long as politicians are able to make it a convenient career, they will have an incentive to think about the next election and not the next generation.

For a little history, back in the days when they needed a horse and buggy to get to and from work, didn't pay so well, and didn't provide many benefits, elected officials treated it like a brief civic duty. We had statesman, not politicians. At this day and age, with more convenient travels and better pay/benefits, they will do what satisfies voters now and pass the problems on to the next generation. An example I have already mentioned is pork, providing immediate gratification now but passing the debt onto future generations.

Other examples include the unwillingness to fix education because they'll lose teachers union support, don't vote for tort reform because that will lose trial lawyers' support, they don't fix campaign financing because they will lose support, they don't streamline the government because they'll lose public employee union support. One may hear about bills with these descriptions, few have any substance. Most of them are window dressing. On one hand pleasing the special interests by preserving the status quo, and on the other hand pleasing the population at large by making them think it's fixed just before this next election. The current system provides the incentive to do that. They have a bigger incentive to hold onto their jobs than to pass beneficial laws.

So we shouldn't have any re-elections at all? Hold that thought

Another argument against term limits is, "There are good ones who will be forced out, and we don't want that." You're right. I'm not saying we have no statesmen now, but they are far and few in comparison to what we used to have. Yes, good ones will be forced out too. However, due to the incumbent advantage, a lot of great individuals choose not to run. They are smart enough to know not to challenge an incumbent because it's a waste of time, money, and energy. So I think it is a fair tradeoff to get rid of the few good ones now in exchange for many good ones later.

Back to the question about not having any re-election. Here's why that can be counterproductive: running for Congress is a tough job. A payoff of only one possible term might not be worth it to some good individuals. We need to find a medium of a certain amount of terms that still encourage people to run and provide the incentive to think about the next generation and not the next election

Another argument against term limits is that the power of lobbyists will go up. The argument is, newly elected people end up being influenced by the lobbyists more because they don't know what they're doing. Whereas those who have been around have the experience and don't depend on lobbyists as much. Listen to the logic of that. Somehow, new legislators learn from lobbyists, and then as they go on, THEY DUMP THE LOBBYISTS?! When has that happened?! The ties incumbents have with lobbyists only grow stronger with time. These scandals have been with career politicians mostly, not first timers. Coincidence? I doubt it. Term limits breaks ties to lobbyists that career politicians have over time

Thomas Jefferson said it best, "Whenever a man casts a longing eye on political office, a rottenness begins in his conduct"
clsmooth

Con

1. New ethics reform measures are pointless. You honestly think Congress can be trusted to police itself, to make its own rules? That's absurd. Banning lobbyist gifts is a waste of time, too. No matter what the new rules are, the lobbyists and the corrupt congressmen will always find a way to circumvent them -- especially when they are the ones left to do the policing! What you say is a good start is just a flat-out joke. But congressional term limits are not even as pointless as your other heralded "reforms" -- they would be more damaging than the status quo.

2. Re-election rates are high. This, by itself, is not a bad thing. People are voting for their congressmen to re-elect them. Why do you want to override the people's democratic initiative? Why is a central planner (i.e. you) better at determining how long a congressman should stay in office than the people? The truth, of course, is that congressmen get in and stay in office because they are master criminals who steal money from Group A and dole it out to Group B, their constituents. People re-elect their congressmen because they keep the welfare flowing for both rich and poor. You even touch on this yourself. This is the real problem, but your "solutions" (outlawing "pork" and requiring a balanced budget) are laughable. One man's pork is another man's beef, and there are still people arguing over whether we had a balanced budget under Clinton. There is only one real solution: RESTORATION OF THE CONSTITUTION.

3. You complain about Senate re-election rates. You later quote Jefferson. Well, in Jefferson's time, the Senate was not even elected by the people, but by the state legislatures, and senators were to serve as ambassadors of the states to the federal government. Here we touch on the real problem -- the federal government has too much power. It is this power that corrupts. The solution is not term limits or more bogus rules, but restoration of the Constitution. Term limits for Congress would be disastrous because they would concentrate even more power in the executive branch -- we need a stronger Congress within the frame of a much, much weaker federal government. Let's repeal the 17th amendment before we talk about term limits.

4. It is better for a congressman to want re-election than to always be looking out for his post-congressional career. After all, if he doesn't care about being re-elected, he has no interest in doing anything other than serving special interests -- which will help him get a cushy job as a lobbyist once he's term limited out. Term limits are a bad, bad idea. The only term limit I would be in favor is one for the presidency of 0 days.

5. You correctly diagnose many of the problems but you are missing the solution. Your little fixes ("granted, we could do this") would easily be overrode by a body you know full well to be criminal in its corruption. The House of Representatives is supposed to be the people's house, and it's not -- but it has nothing to do with term limits. It has to do with usurpation of power from the people and the states into the hands of elites in Washington. Let's repeal the 17th, reduce the power of the executive branch and the federal courts, and return power to the people.

Oh, and it should not be lost on the voters that my opponent criticizes the power of the Senate and of long-serving senators, and yet he supported Joe Biden for president.
Debate Round No. 1
The_Silent_Consensus

Pro

1. I agree with you that ethics reforms are mostly window dressing. Nevertheless, I think they are marginally better than before. It's not saying much, but this isn't a point worth pursuing any further

2. Term limits are overwhelmingly approved by the people when on the ballot. The people overwhelmingly support Congressional term limits. The whole "we can always vote them out" argument isn't really all it's made out to be. It doesn't happen for reasons I've explained already, and that argument assumes that the incumbent will be so bad that voters will end up taking any challenger over him/her. And as you know, a constitutional amendment for term limits would require 2/3 vote by both houses, the president's signature, and ratification by 3/4 of the states. How much more "democratic" can one get? With regards to one's pork being another's beef, we should have objective standards, such as no adding any provisions in conference that were not present in either house's bill.

3. The circumstances of when Jefferson said it is irrelevant to the point of what he said. His point was that career politicians begin to rot, totally irrelevant to the 17th Amendment. Further, you argue that more people should have power, yet want to take away the people's power to elect their senators. Doesn't make much sense to me. Further, we should not even talk about repealing the 17th Amendment until we get rid of gerrymandering for the house. The senate is currently the more democratic body because of gerrymandering

4. No, if he only cares about being re-elected, then he has no incentive to do anything but please the special interests. That's exactly what goes on now. With term limits, citizen members of the private sector who just want to briefly serve, do some good, and then go back to their old jobs will finally have a chance. They're smart enough not to challenge an incumbent who has committed no crime because they know people vote for the bum they know over the bum they don't. Finally, I reject the idea that term limits would result in a more powerful executive branch. Term limits would break ties members of the legislative branch have with the executive branch. Also, many people in the private sector are heads and shoulders above our current politicians as far as learning ability, leadership, negotiating, and all other necessary qualities of being an elected official. More of these people would run with term limits, and coupled with breaking ties to the president, this would result in a more powerful legislative branch.

5. You comment about the feasibility of my "granted we could do this" ideas, yet propose ideas that if anything, are even less feasible. We're not here to debate the feasibility. Returning power to the people and repealing the 17th Amendment seems like an inherent contradiction. That takes away power from the people to elect their senators and gives power to the states.

Calling me out for supporting Joe Biden in spite of my term limits view would be like me calling you out for supporting Ron Paul when Ron Paul in fact supports congressional term limits. I'm willing to bet your support for him has nothing to do with that, and my support for Joe Biden wasn't because he has been in the senate for a long time. I supported Biden because he is the most practical of all the candidates, best able to reach bipartisan consensus, and gave clear answers to the questions (here is the problem, here's what needs to be done, here's how I'll do it).
clsmooth

Con

1. You lose.

2. The people support term limits when on the ballot? For Congress? Where is your evidence of this? I have strong evidence to the contrary -- the extremely high congressional re-election rate. People want term limits for OTHER people's congressmen, because OTHER people's congressmen do not bring home the pork for THEM. This is just another example of why democracy is at least as bad as any other form of government. As far as the pork/beef thing: How about Congress just follows the Constitution? If that were the case, the federal budget would be about 1/100 of what it is.

3. The direct election of senators does not empower people. It empowers the power elite who run massive statewide campaigns for votes. A decentralized, originalist senatorial election system in which the direct representatives of the people (state legislators) elected senators to REPRESENT THE INTERESTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL STATES versus the centralist impulses of the federal government, would clearly put more power in the hands of the people by retaining more power at the state level, versus the federal level. You say the senate is "more democratic" as if that's a good thing. I don't think it's very "democratic" that someone in Wyoming gets 55 times as much voting power, per capita, as someone in California. But that's the least of the Senate's problems.

4. How about we take away Congress's ability to "please the special interest." The prescription is pretty clear: THE CONSTITUTION.

"Also, many people in the private sector are heads and shoulders above our current politicians as far as learning ability, leadership, negotiating" -- I can't disagree with that!

5. My comments are not about feasibility, they're about effectiveness. Yes, it is totally feasible to do the pointless "reforms" you speak of -- which you admit yourself (point #1) would be only "window dressing." It may be entirely unfeasible for Congress to actually follow the Constitution; I admit this. Which is why we should perform our Jeffersonian duty to alter or abolish the government. I'm for the latter. Finally, you obviously don't believe that the U.S. Senators represent the interests of the people, and yet you act as if they do on this point. Senators, like their peers in the House, represent the interests of the centralized state and its corporate paymasters. Far better for them to represent the individual states, thereby causing friction and gridlock in a legitimate test of will between the states and federal government. THIS WAS THE FOUNDERS' DESIGN FOR OUR GOVERNMENT, and our country has fallen completely to hell with the passage of the 14th, 16th, and 17th amendments, as well as the Federal Reserve Act, all of which are repugnant to Jeffersonianism.
Debate Round No. 2
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by seraine 5 years ago
seraine
"Granted, we could try fixing this problem by making it easier for voters to be informed and understand what's going on."

Read the Myth of the Rational Voter.
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