I’m in favor of term limits across all elected government offices as well as for appointed positions of leadership. The argument that 30 years of experience is needed to get the real work done only holds any truth because it’s how we’ve chosen to operate. The work of the government should be understandable by the people. Laws should be simple and our systems should be navigable. Eliminating entrenchment will help us to move forward. For Congress specifically, the only viable path I currently see toward the reality of term limits would be to grandparent in current representatives to the old rules. Without a Constitutional Amendment, we would be unable to adjust the length of terms and the number of senators, so I would suggest a 12-year limit for all congresspeople, regardless of whether they serve in the House, the Senate, or both. An alternative would be a gradual reduction of term limits for new representatives over a few decades, which may allow us to put some limit on current representatives, say 20 years from when the legislation is enacted. While these suggestions are not the most preferable, we live in the real world and have to do the best with what we have. An additional positive side effect of this would be additional public motivation to replace long-time incumbents, which creates extra incentive to reform voting methods at state levels. Should I have the opportunity to write this legislation, I would explicitly subject myself to the new term limits in the language of the law.
Along with term limits, we need explicit provisions to prevent elected officials and regulators from working for the industries they legislate and regulate upon leaving their positions. A 10-year post-term ban seems like a good minimum to me. If this requires dramatically increasing salaries and pensions for those politicians and regulators to pass it, that would be a perfectly reasonable and cost effective trade. To show that I really believe that paying politicians more is worth it in exchange for reducing corruption, I would explicitly write myself out of the raise while still being subject to the ban should I have the opportunity to write this legislation. I feel similarly about lobbying, but banning corporate lobbying would be even less politically viable than this. Ultimately, we simply need better representatives for things like campaign finance reform and an end to corporate lobbying, which first requires voting method reform.
Congressional makeup is a bit nonsense. First and foremost, the reasons the US House is limited to 435 members are not sound. As an example, one of the primary reasons stated at the time the 435 cap was set was that the House Chamber was running out of room for more members, as if we couldn’t build a new chamber in a rapidly growing country. The Constitution states “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand…”James Madison wrote much about why that number was chosen. George Washington’s only intervention during the entire Constitutional Convention was asking the number of people to be lowered from 40,000 to 30,000. It really comes down to balancing more representation with the size of the body. Personally, I believe that in the Information Age, a ratio of 1 representative for every 100,000 residents is reasonable. This would put the size of the House at over 3,300 members.
Many would say that 3,300+ members is far too large for a body of legislators, but I disagree. We have a much better understanding of systems and structures that allow deliberations in large bodies of people than the founders did in the 1780s. We also have modern technology that can help facilitate communication that currently isn’t being utilized in Congress. Regardless, most work done by representatives happens in far smaller committee meetings anyway, not House-wide deliberations on the floor. Additionally, as the country has grown and society has advanced, the enormous variety of issues House representatives need to address and vote on has progressed beyond the capacity of any single human. A large House can better take advantage of specialization (i.e. allowing individual representatives to better focus on a smaller range of issues) by changing the House Rules to allow representatives to choose other representatives to vote on their behalf on specified topics, also known as proxy voting. For those concerned about gridlock, the issue is not that the House is too big; the issue is that for centuries, we’ve been using a voting method, Choose-one Voting, that mechanically reinforces a polarized two-party system and the concept that we can only like one thing while disliking everything else, feeding our tribalistic tendencies. In that time, a huge variety of laws and House Rules have further entrenched the power of major party elites, including capping the House at 435 members. With far smaller districts, a greater variety of candidates with more diverse ideas and stances will have some real opportunities to win elections while better connecting with and representing their constituents.
While I don’t see a politically viable path to jump from 435 members to 3,300+ in a single term, it may be possible to pass legislation that creates a gradual increase over time, ultimately locking the number to a ratio of House representatives to residents, even if it’s not the ratio I’ve proposed. The current House Chamber could be turned into a tourist exhibit with provisions to build a new chamber capable of holding 4,000 or more representatives with plenty of modern working space. Ideally, House Rules would also change to allow representatives to perform most of their work remotely, though that’s currently mostly in the hands of the Speaker of the House, who, along with the Senate Majority Leader, historically likes to keep congressional members in Washington, D.C. as a means of control (regardless of party, I might add).
There’s much more I would love to do to change how our federal legislature is formed and operates, but those ideas all require a Constitutional Amendment, which is currently politically unviable. If you have specific questions about those ideas, feel free to reach out to me either privately or on social media, or check out some of the content on my Youtube channel.
All of the changes I’ve proposed here are modified from more ideal proposals to be more politically viable. Even with those modifications and compromises, passing any of these proposals would be nearly impossible right now. People in power don’t want to give up their power. At the end of the day, citizen action is required to make the real changes.