The Term Limit Catastrophe: Ted Cruz’s Massive “Brain Drain”
continues to suggest that we desperately need a constitutional amendment that would prevent United States Senators from serving more than two six-year terms and House members from serving more than three two-year terms.enator Ted Cruz, who generally takes the correct stance on issues, is short-sighted and dead wrong when it comes to term limits. On his podcast Verdict, he
Consider his words: “Washington insiders get taxpayer money, and members of Congress get re-elected, all while the system fails the American people.” In Senator Cruz’s perfect world, congressional term limits would be the most viable solution for empowering the people. However, given today’s modus operandi on Capitol Hill, pairing term limits with the current administrative (read: deep) state would be a cataclysmic mistake, offering nothing more than a vast power transfer from the elected legislative branch to the unelected executive bureaucracy.
Congress’ abdication of its authority to the unelected bureaucracy, which former President Donald Trump monikered the “Washington swamp,” is nothing new but continues to gets worse. In 1940, the federal government employed fewer than one million workers. Last year, that number surpassed three million. Think about it: For each House member, there are about 7,000 government bureaucrats. For every United States Senator, there are roughly 30,000 bureaucrats.
When one adds in federal government contractors (those who are not technically employees but are still paid by the federal government), that number is closer to seven million. With active-duty military and reserve forces included, the number jumps to more than nine million, which is roughly equivalent to Michigan’s entire population (the 10th largest state in the country).
Who are these unelected bureaucrats? What exactly do they all do? Who gave them such inordinate power?
Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have abdicated their authority to progressive left-wing bureaucrats, who overwhelmingly supporting Democratic Party candidates for federal office. Let us be clear: Washington, D.C. is a liberal haven that routinely backs Democrats, who, in turn, support D.C. statehood, unfettered and unlimited abortions, job-killing environmental regulations, endless wars, and other ideological pursuits. In 2016, 95% of political donations from federal government employees ended up in the Clinton campaign’s coffers.
But this issue transcends politics. Congress’ longstanding practice of transferring power to the administrative state is highly problematic because it has made real expertise a rare commodity among elected officials. We need not be surprised that if experts are not needed, it will be grifters, attention-seekers, and the ill-informed who run for higher office.
Over the decades, members of Congress have essentially become figureheads with little to no expertise on critical issues. They have become masters of deferring and delegating. Congress will pass a sweeping, complex law, such as Obamacare, and then leave it up to bureaucrats (and the pharmaceutical lobbyists) to implement it efficiently and effectively. And guess what: If one does not like it, tough luck because it is not possible to vote out a lobbyist or fire a bureaucrat. This is exactly how mandates like Obamacare became such disasters.
Term limits would only further diminish our elected officials’ authority, granting even more power to congressional staff and the administrative state.
There is also a longstanding misconception that congressional turnover is virtually nonexistent, with the same people gaining and holding on to power over the decades. To the contrary, Congress is often replenished with new freshman members, resulting in well over 10% turnover. At the outset of the 115th Congress, more than 60% of our representatives had served four terms or less.
Another one of Washington, D.C.’s worst-kept secrets is that congressional staffers—many of whom are in their 20s and 30s—routinely make high-level decisions that should be reserved for members of Congress. Those staffers often influence, research, craft, and even write the federal laws that transfer power to the executive branch. Since those staffers often lack knowledge or experience—and their bosses do not have it either—that power must be transferred somewhere else: Enter the administrative state.
Why? America’s elected officials can spend three days per week fundraising, two days kissing babies and attending district events, and one day traveling to those events. This leaves only one or two days for legislating, which is the actual job we elected them to perform. It is no wonder that the most important work is often left to unelected and underpaid staff, which is heavily influenced by K Street.
Term limits would only further diminish our elected officials’ authority, granting even more power to congressional staff and the administrative state. Americans would end up with a federal government run primarily by D.C. left-wingers, disincentivizing senators and House members from ever becoming experts on the policy issues relevant to their constituents.
In today’s “swamp,” it can take years—if not decades—to become an expert on navigating the legislative minefield, let alone specific issues. How can elected officials gain expertise if they do not have enough time to gain the requisite experience?
While “draining the swamp” is a worthwhile goal, Senator Cruz’s term-limit proposal would only result in a brain drain from the chambers of Congress. It would benefit career bureaucrats at the expense of elected officials, and those voting for them. The true “experts”—a revolving door of congressional staffers and lobbyists—would become the most valuable political currency in Washington, D.C.—and not the representatives on the ballot.
So what is the solution? Rather than pursuing term limits, the United States must develop a new “spoils system,” with power (e.g. the spoils) reserved for the political victors at the time. In this system, federal workers would be replaced every four to eight years, depending on presidential transitions. From the groundskeeper who cleans the Capitol grounds to those who sweep the halls of Congress and chiefs of staff calling the shots, a new spoils system would actively discourage people from becoming D.C. lifers, while holding bureaucrats accountable.
Losers would not be allowed to retain power if it was not earned via the electoral process. Therefore, it would be easier for Congress to retain its legislative authority and for legislators to be held accountable to the voters for their decisions.
Our current problems can be tracked back to the 1800s. The Pendleton Act of 1883 effectively ended America’s spoils system and introduced today’s career bureaucrat, who waits out presidential administrations and political movements (and may even seek out the destruction of an administration from within) to remain relevant in the nation’s capital. These bureaucrats become long-term fixtures, while elected officials are merely a short-term nuisance in their eyes.
Remember when Senator Chuck Schumer admonished President Trump for criticizing American intelligence agencies? By claiming “they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Senator Schumer essentially admitted that the intelligence apparatus was in place long before President Trump took power and will remain in place, unencumbered, long after he leaves office.
Because the federal government is so large, it takes a substantial amount of institutional knowledge to run it. However, such knowledge should be reserved for long-serving elected officials—not unelected administrators. When Congress did away with the spoils system, elected officials began to outsource expertise to staffers and even vendors, gradually forming the bureaucratic class that we see today. Because their time was limited, our representatives had no reason to understand the ins and outs of D.C. over the long haul.
As Republicans, Senator Cruz and other senators need to limit the scope of government. In the nation’s capital, power will always remain; the only question is who has it. A loss in authority for the elected official is a gain for the millions of federal bureaucrats in our midst.
Instead of limiting terms, Americans would benefit from extending terms for senators and House members, so they can outlast a given election and establish themselves as truly active legislators. In a world of passive legislating, longer terms would force elected officials to become masters of their own craft, gaining the expertise that currently belongs to technocrats.
If our government returned to true federalism, with power decentralized back to the states, perhaps term limits would make more sense. However, that is not our reality. As evidenced by President Joe Biden’s newfound obsession with executive orders, the federal government is only growing larger and larger. States’ rights have been diminished. True federalism is a pipe dream.
With that in mind, Americans need to encourage their representatives to do their jobs. Term limits would defer that responsibility to the wrong people. Senator Cruz and his cohort should abandon their catastrophe of a proposal and return to being the true champions of freedom.