Senator Ted Cruz and Rep. Ron DeSantis have an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post titled If Republicans really want to drain the swamp, here’s how to do it. The piece advocates for a constitutional amendment providing for term limits for Congress:
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for enacting term limits, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has endorsed the idea. As soon as the 115th Congress convenes, both of us will move to restore accountability among the entrenched Washington establishment by introducing a constitutional amendment to limit the number of terms that a member of Congress can serve to three in the House and two in the Senate.
Passing term limits will demonstrate that Congress has actually heard the voice of the people.
Cruz and DeSantis argue that term limits will change how politicians behave:
Term limits will change the calculus of those who serve in Congress.
Without term limits, the incentive for a typical member is to stay as long as possible to accumulate seniority on the way to a leadership post or committee chair. Going along to get along is a much surer path for career advancement than is challenging the way Washington does business.
I used to be foursquare in favor of term limits after reading George Will’s book Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy back in the 1990s. But since that time, I have watched how term limits have played out in California, and the results have not impressed me. Career politicians are still career politicians; they just bounce from job to job. A feeling of civic duty does not pervade the halls of our state senate or assembly. If anything, they seem more beholden to our governor and his quirky schemes for overregulating business and freeing as many criminals as possible. I can’t say California’s silly policies these days are a result of term limits, but term limits seem to have done little to prevent them.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe politicians not facing term limits do lose some courage. Take Ted Cruz, for example. The man who had the guts to take on his own party back in the day — a man who believes in the free market enough to oppose ethanol subsidies in Iowa during a presidential race! — has been remarkably praiseworthy of the Carrier deal that picks a winner (Carrier) over a loser (its competitors). The Carrier deal flies in the face of Cruz’s longstanding opposition to such government intervention — which, interestingly, he subtly alludes to in this op-ed, saying: “The Washington Cartel is hard at work picking winners and losers, with hard-working Americans typically winding up as the losers.”
But he knows the politics of criticizing this deal openly, at this time, with Trump’s popularity high, would be costly. And so, for now, he refrains from open criticism, and even praises the deal. Is that because he faces re-election in 2018? Because he hopes to run for President again? Because he hopes to have a long Senate career? Who knows for sure?
Ultimately, Cruz may have calculated that his support of term limits today is a cost-free position to take, because there is no chance Congress will propose an amendment that reins in the ambitions of its own members. (Note that Cruz does not propose an Article V convention for the purpose of passing this amendment.)
Cruz’s support for term limits may be prove to be a miscalculation, though. Having proposed a Constitutional amendment to limit Senators to two terms, Cruz is likely to be reminded of his position . . . if and when he runs for a third term.