The circus called Congress might be amusing if one in eight Americans didn’t rely on food stamps. Or if we weren’t engaged in two wars, with rumblings of a third. Or if health costs didn’t eat up one of every six American dollars without delivering anything close to universal or comprehensive care. Or if one in six Americans wasn’t either unemployed or underemployed.
But in these times, it’s not amusing; it’s pathetic.
The U.S. Congress is living in a state of gridlock and not just because of snowstorms. As Slate notes,Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree on a definition of the word bipartisanship.
The public isn’t much less cantankerous. It does, however, share one overwhelming perception: That Congress is not doing its job. So let me make a modest bipartisan proposal: It is time to resurrect the call for term limits.
Let’s put aside our differences (my own perspective is that the Republicans are the party to blame and the Democrats are the party of lame). Let’s agree that something is amiss, so much so that I agree with Newt Gingrich on something. For it was he and the Republican right in its Contract with America that called for term limits in the first place.
Back then I hated the idea. I bought the argument that experience led to greater wisdom in government. Now I’m convinced it leads only to inertia and greed (as demonstrated in part by how quickly Republicans deserted their plan once they took power).
But Gingrich was right: Congress shouldn’t be a lifetime club membership.
Granted, term limits has its risks. If it were to turn Capitol Hill into a farm system for K Street lobbyists, limiting the duration that elected representatives can serve could increase rather than diminish the buying of Congress. But I suspect if we limited each senator to two terms (12 years) and each member of the House to four (eight years), more people interested in serving the public might compete for public office. For one thing they’d have more of a chance of competing; incumbents are exceedingly hard to beat. For another, they could act at least occasionally with some motivation other than getting re-elected, over and over and over again.
Maybe with term limits, someone would consider running for office who wasn’t looking for an old-age pension or a gold-plated health care plan. Maybe we’d have something besides a bunch of Grumpy Old Men making decisions to score points, salve their own egos and satisfy their lobbyists of choice.
Maybe things are just that desperate.