What Marco Rubio Means When He Plays The Term-Limit Game
Credit: DonkeyHotey
January 4, 2016

If Marco Rubio actually spent more time doing his job -- or actually cared about what's best for America, rather than what's good for Republican interests, he wouldn't be pushing dangerous ideas like this:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says if elected president he will advocate for the states to call a constitutional convention to impose term limits on members of Congress.

Rubio's comments are part of a pitch to rein in a federal government that he said is out of touch with regular Americans. He's also promising to repeal many of President Barack Obama's executive actions, including his upcoming actions on guns.

His remarks come during a campaign swing through New Hampshire, where he's holding three town hall meetings on Sunday.

Rubio says he'd use the bully pulpit of the presidency to support a constitutional convention to address three specific issues: term limits for members of Congress, term limits for federal judges and to pass a balanced budget amendment. He says creating term limits must come from a grassroots movement because members of Congress will never do it themselves.

Of course they'd never do it themselves -- and I agree with them!

Congressional term limits is the red herring Rubio's using to push the obviously partisan agenda behind limiting judicial terms and a balanced budget amendment.

Term limits is one of those ideas that people on both sides love, mostly because they don't understand how Congress actually works.

Let's say Joe Smith, a car dealer, is elected as the congress member from East Gibip. Although he's sold voters on the idea that running a car dealership and being a "job creator" is exactly the right background for being a citizen legislator, it only takes one orientation session for him to realize he is WAY over his head. Even if he had the brainpower and motivation to master the nuts and bolts of Roberts Rules of Order and crafting legislation, he quickly understands the bulk of his time will be spent asking donors to support him for re-election (which is, after all, only two short years away).

That's okay, because those nice folks at the Republican/Democratic headquarters recommend experienced staffers to carry the load. Yet that comes with its own set of disturbing problems.

As the Washington Times put it, "The most powerful nation on Earth is run largely by 24-year-olds."

Here's the short version: For the past 30+ years, in the name of "lean and mean" government, funding for congressional staffs has been chopped to the bone. This means there's not much incentive for experienced staffers to stick around and master even deeper issue expertise when they can jump ship to triple or even quadruple their salaries by working as lobbyists. So with low pay and long hours, there's a turnover problem. (The median staff salary is $42K -- in a city where rents are through the roof.)

So there's a consistent churn of experienced staffers and the institutional knowledge leaves with them. Congress fills the gap by using staffers "on loan" from various lobbying groups and ideological think tanks. Well, that expertise has to come from somewhere.

Back in the day, before we started slashing away at government funding, staff salaries and lobbying salaries were roughly equivalent. Not anymore! See how that "running government like a business" thing makes government even more lopsided toward business interests? Congressional staffers are a lot more open to lobbyist input if their long-term ability to make a decent living depends on it.

(By the way, this salary situation is why staffers so often come from privileged backgrounds. Their careers are often subsidized by their families. The end effect, of course, is that aspiring working-class policy nerds simply can't afford to work for Congress. Even the non-profits pay better. We see the resulting class bias in the legislation.)

And this situation is why congressional term limits not only don't solve the problem, they make it even worse.

So when you hear someone enthusiastically endorsing term limits, do your best to explain why it's such a bad idea. Our democracy needs all the help it can get.

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