Billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer believes he is promoting a platform that would transform government by promoting structural reforms — and for the most part, he’s right in his assessment.
It’s just that some of the reforms would result in changes that would be a net-negative to the American people.
Steyer wrote an op-ed for Newsweek early in December in which he stated he has been “calling for fundamental changes in the way our democracy works” on a number of fronts, including calling out corruption by corporations and other structural changes. Such demands are not uncommon within the Democratic Party, he’s noted.
However, Steyer does have differing points of view on other reform ideas, he wrote.
“There’s something that makes me different from everyone else running for the Democratic nomination: I’ve been proposing congressional term limits of 12 years in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. If we want bold change, we need new and different people in charge,” Steyer said.
There’s a number of reasons why Steyer believes term limits would be a good thing.
“Term limits reorient incentives away from campaign donations and toward the actual work of governing,” Steyer said. “Term-limited members are likely to spend more time legislating than fundraising for re-election and are freed-up to make voting decisions without the fear of retribution at the ballot box. And…term limits produce new members who are more likely to bring fresh, needed ideas to the table.”
Additionally, Steyer pointed out that states that have term limits are more likely to have women on the ballot for legislative offices and other positions than states that don’t have term limits.
Ideally, the things Steyer wants out of term limits are things most everyone wants from their elected leaders. But are term limits really the way to go about achieving those ends? Many say no, because term limits are more harmful than they seem at first glance.
Term limits, for example, take away the preferred choices of the people. Sure, there are plenty of incumbent lawmakers that individuals on the left would like to see go away — Mitch McConnell likely tops the list — but for every McConnell out there that would be subjected to term limits, there are popular lawmakers, consistently sent back to Congress, who would have been forced to have left office long ago.
Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, John Lewis, and more would all have been given the boot long ago had term limits already been put into place. Popular politicians whom the people want to send back to Washington should be an option for constituents to choose from — term limits instead take that choice away from them.
Other lawmakers, who have become specialized on certain political topics, would also have to be replaced, forcing freshmen members of Congress to pick up where they left off on those particular issues. Handing off the torch to new leaders is a good thing from time-to-time, but doing so while some of those leaders are in the middle of important work is not beneficial to the nation.
Many founders of the nation were also against term limits, believing that politics was to be viewed as a profession rather than something people occasionally do. Benjamin Rush dedicated an essay toward the idea of not instituting term limits on elected leaders, writing that “government is a science” that can “never be perfect in America, until we encourage men to devote…their whole lives to it.”
The outcomes that Steyer described in his essay that supposedly come about from term limits can be achieved through other means. Conversely, the ills that come about from term limits being imposed do not just affect lawmakers — they also cause significant harm to voters.
Term limits might make sense for the president, who wields a tremendous amount of power for just a single individual, or for the un-elected judicial branch, but for members of Congress, it might not be the right path to take.