Resolved: The US should institute congressional term limits
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Con skips first post
Pro posts constructive
Con posts constructive
Pro waives last round
US citizens, per the constitutional guarantees highlighted in the preface of the founding document, are due from their government domestic tranquility (1). Additionally, the US government is to “pursue the general welfare of the people” (1). The government’s adherence to these virtues is contingent on the viability of the multifarious officials that collaborate to help the American people. To guarantee that these virtues are upheld, I value consequentialism in this debate. consequentialism is the philosophical principle by which we measure the justness of an action by its tangible consequences. As a state actor, the US is obligated by consequentialism to guarantee that the “general welfare of the people” is upheld in a real-world context as opposed to a nebulous concept in the preface of the constitution. By measuring the impact on the lives of citizens, we can derive whether the resolution upholds the general welfare of the people. If I can prove that term limits harm the citizenry more than help them, then the judges should feel comfortable voting Con.
C1: Brain Drain
Freshman lawmakers are likely to defer judgement toward experienced legislators. However, with dwindling senior members on account of new term limits, fresh-faced legislators will stumble in their efforts to fix and/or make law. A former lawmaker turned lobbyist in a term-limited state started diverting his clients’ business toward the agency heads as opposed to the legislators. The reason? “There are some legislators who know as much as agency people do, but they're few and far between and they'll be gone very quickly," and "Agency heads are the true winners. They can outwait and outlast anyone and everyone on the playing field and they have consolidated their power” (2). The lobbyist’s conclusions are accurate according to empirical research conducted at the University of Missouri. Utilizing a survey, researchers found that 10% of new lawmakers barely studied for new legislative items, while experienced legislators always studied (3). Knowledge is the greatest asset that a lawmaker can wield. Without it, representatives fail to know what is best for their constituency.
As seasoned experts leave the legislature to be replaced by newer lawmakers, programs that were originally hashed out by colleagues are swiftly forgotten. The Governing Magazine notes that in Maine, a state with a term limited legislature, legislation had to be “carried” through multiple legislatures as a result of term limits. Former Maine lawmaker Steven Rowe was a victim of this when he and his colleagues worked to expand childcare. While initially passing and, the program’s funding was cut by 1/3 by subsequent legislatures who wanted to counter the fiscal shortfalls that Maine was experiencing while shifting funding elsewhere toward newer projects (2). What results is a legislature which has short-term memory loss. It eschews past programs in favor of newer projects regardless of the overall impacts to the people.
In addition, ineffective legislators are less likely to hold executive officeholders to acceptable standards. We can observe tangible examples of this in California, where term limits caused the legislature to make only half of the alterations to the governor’s budget compared to the non-term limited old days (2) (4). According to the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2006, this pattern holds true for nearly all term-limited states due in part to inexperienced legislators who are powerless to challenge the governor’s decisions (5). Ohio State University demonstrated this in their 2009 study which measured the legislative prowess of lawmakers both new and old. By calculating the number of bills introduced, whether they passed committee, and whether they went to the other chamber of the bicameral congress, they were able to quantitatively calculate the legislative efficiency of lawmakers (8). They found that congressmen who were elected for 5 terms were almost 4 times as effective as freshman lawmakers (8). The inevitable consequence of waning Congressional power and rising Executive power is something that our founding fathers feared. The checks-and-balances doctrine in which each branch of the government can hold another accountable was established because they were afraid of one branch becoming too powerful. The abundance of decision-making through executive orders, mass surveillance undertaken by the NSA and other executive agencies, and threats of vetoes derailing legislation (see the DACA debacle in which bipartisan legislation was halted by the president’s threat of veto via Twitter (12)) are all signs of congressional weakness in the status quo. We cannot allow Congress to cede any more ground to the executive branch as the practical effects of doing so would be calamitous. Take the previous example of California’s lack of zeal in regulating the governor’s budget requests. On the federal scale, in which president’s budget requests are not reined in, spurious spending and cuts to the budget will occur regularly. The most recent budget request by the president would slash the EPA’s budget by 31%, HUD by 18%, the SNAP food program by $220 billion dollars over the next 10 years, and Medicaid as well as the ACA by nearly $800 billion dollars over the next 10 years (11). The poor would struggle to pay for medical services, put food on the table for their families, or afford other necessities. All the while, the EPA and HUD would be crippled by the cuts to the point that enforcing existing environmental regulation or offering low-income rent assistance to the poor would be virtually impossible. The only way we can guarantee that this budget will not come into fruition is through the concerted effort of congress to iron out the deficiencies and create a better budget through reconciliation between the house and senate. Is this something that new congressmen will be able to do with their limited experience and understanding of the budget appropriations process? No. The constitution is clear when it demands that the people’s general welfare be upheld by Congress.
Remember, newer lawmakers are less likely to pass bills as shown by the Ohio State University evidence I provided (6). There are multiple warrants for this, but foremost among them is polarization. Newer members of the House and Senate tend to be more polarized than their senior foils. Harvard University in their May 2018 analysis found that:
“…the adoption of legislative term limits led to a statistically significant shift to the ideological right among Republicans (0.063); among Democrats, term limits were accompanied by a shift in the liberal direction (−0.023)” (7).
Without numerous terms to galvanize working relationships with their peers, many term-limited lawmakers never reach across the aisle to create bipartisan legislation. As a result, gridlock becomes ubiquitous. Evidence of a fragmented congress has become apparent in recent years with multiple government shutdowns over funding and narrow congressional victories across party lines. The Brookings Institute in 2014 quantifies this pattern of bill blocking when they find that 75% of salient issues in Congress are subject to gridlock (8).
Another often overlooked impact of enacting term limits is the induced behavioral changes that occur. The University of Missouri’s report indicated that term limits incentivized prospective lawmakers to focus on their post-legislative career, reducing lawmakers’ desire to learn the legislative process (3). Instead, lawmakers were likely to seek executive jobs that were not term limited. The position is seen as a steppingstone to attain a favorable appointment in the future. Lawmakers’ ambition to vie for power in their post-congressional career has a tangible impact on the constituents who elected these legislators into power. This is demonstrated by a 2006 survey of term limited states published in the Legislative Quarterly which found that term-limited senators were less beholden to their constituency because they realized that their job had an early expiration date (14). Not only do they secure less money and time for district-wide projects, they are generally less likely to offer constituent services (14).
Term limits allow for careerism to seep into the legislative process, creating an environment in which representatives jettison their duties to the public for a more permanent position in the future. Party politics will dominate in Pro’s world, meaning that bipartisan legislation will disappear in favor of polarized issues taking center stage. Bipartisan efforts to enact effective background checks or human trafficking protections have been halted previously due to the looming pressure of partisanship (16) (17). With the passage of this resolution, this problem is exacerbated.
Let's make this one for the record books.
Pro’s sole source refuting the connection between newer members and congress is a study from 2007 saying that there is no evidence of polarization due to term limits. My 2018 Harvard evidence is more recent, so of course the 2007 study could not account for it (19). Pro tries to point toward other culprits of increased polarization. I don’t doubt that they add to polarization, but he has yet to effectively discredit my causal link.
My opponent also claims that polarization in the US causes lawmakers to adopt more polarized positions. This appears to be true, but there is a cornucopia of evidence suggesting that extreme candidates actually fare worse in elections than their moderate peers. Andrew Hall looked at close congressional races in 2015 and found that moderates were more likely to win against extreme opponents, likely because extreme candidates sparked turnout from opposition parties (21).
Free and Fair Elections
Government by the People
(1) 538 explicitly writes that i's method for calculating incumbency advantage "is different from other researchers’, so keep in mind that these numbers can’t be compared directly to those from previous years." But that's exactly what Con is doing: comparing it to previous years.(2) By including elasticity scores in their calculation, 538 risks conflating the incumbency advantage with inelasticity.(3) Most of my sources are recent, from 2008, 2014, 2015, and 2018--and none are from 2000 or earlier. Indeed, my 2015 source estimates an incumbency advantage of 30-points or more.(4) Con drops the reasons I give for why incumbency advantage exists, namely: fundraising, name recognition, national attention, control of government, campaign experience, a presumption of success, and voters' risk-aversion. Because I have data + logic on my side, you have to buy my argument over Con's data + no reasons why that data makes sense.
My framework (protecting 4 key principles) was dropped, while consequentialism is problematic. Brain drain, polarization, and shifting priorities do not link to most of these principles, and certainly not the most important one: free and fair elections.
Per my argument on popular sovereignty, presume Pro in a close debate.
Brain drain is a non-issue because (1) the learning curve will be short, (2) legislators have prior experience, (3) there are simple ways to mitigate inexperience, and (4) my plan mitigates the problem. Con essentially dropped the last three of these.Polarization is a non-issue because (1) Con's source turns Pro, (2) our sources cancel out, (3) Con's causal link cannot be isolated or verified, and (4) Con dropped that it's experienced legislators who are driving gridlock.Shifting priorities is a non-issue because (1) the argument is non-unique, (2) legislators continue to represent their constituents, (3) it's the least talented lawmakers that stay in office, and (4) legislators won't be beholden to parties. Con dropped all of these.
I ensure free and fair elections by protecting the competitiveness of elections. I promote government by the people by opening up the Congress to women and minorities. And I honor popular sovereignty by respecting the general will. My plan would eject almost 150 legislators from Congress, lower the average tenure, and prevent large numbers of ineffective legislators from aimlessly clinging to office. But it would do so by striking a balance that mitigates harms from lost experience.
First, Pro drops my response explaining why consequentialism is the superior framework in the round. Per the preamble to the constitution, we are chiefly concerned with the “general welfare of the people.” Since citizens can only experience the tangible result of laws, it would be absurd to value anything other than the consequences of a law, (hence, consequentialism).
He reiterates his previous argument about weighing the lives of murderers vs. the rights of innocent people. I don’t know why he only wants the benefits of policy to reach who he deems to be “good people,” but we already have a system in place for depriving rights to people who commit serious crimes. Also, he drops my argument that governments are not beholden more to certain citizens over others. Furthermore, he never explains why in the context of policymaking this matters. Manifest as many hypotheticals as you want, but in practice, we default to debating the consequences of policy, not whether someone deserves to have benefits conferred to them. Extend these points.
Pro attempts to mitigate the impact of “brain drain” by castigating the statistic which determined the legislative efficiency of freshmen lawmakers to be lacking. I already refuted this notion. If legislators are not engaging in their primary duty as lawmakers, then the likelihood of them adding “hitchhikers” to bills is low. He never offers any statistics to make us think otherwise.
Pro mentions lobbyists. I never actually made an argument regarding lobbyists.
Pro supposes that hitchhikers “might” be appealing to newer lawmakers because having their individual policies supplement large bills would be easier than passing an individual bill. This is mere conjecture. It is also possible that hitchhikers derail policies by introducing partisan language into otherwise bipartisan bills. It is also possible that the procedure to introduce hitchhikers is oblique, and thus eludes novice lawmakers. Cross-apply the lack of studying done by lawmakers and the quote from the Arizona legislature which laments that newer legislators are forced to learn quicker. Without an evidentiary basis, Pro cannot assure us that the absence of hitchhikers matters.
My opponent reminds us that not all senior lawmakers are effective or bipartisan. I agree but looking only at a handful of senators ignores my holistic study illustrating that most senior lawmakers are more effective than their newer counterparts (1). It is not accurate to suggest that the freshman lawmakers are any less extreme. I already mentioned AOC and her controversial support for the Green New Deal. Also, I mentioned the importance of the Problem-Solving caucus which was instrumental in reducing partisanship to bring an end to the government shutdown. Pro drops both examples.
Pro construes my source 4 to “prove” that polarization does not increase with term limits. It should be noted that the source only looked at Sacramento, which failed to account for other states with term limits. On the other hand, my two studies that have been untouched by Pro are more recent, look at more states than just California, and aren’t from 2007. The reason I mentioned the date when my opponent’s 2007 study was published was that while it boldly declared that there was “no evidence of polarization,” more recent studies have since established that there is a link because term-limited members are wary of their short time in the legislature and want to “toe the party line” to maintain rapport with their party for future political appointments.
Pro opines that polarization is moving slowly, in “inches.” Second, he suggests that extreme candidates can pull in moderates. I don’t know if these arguments are cogent sans any evidence. Even if my opponent is correct, it does not substitute for the effect of polarization as a result of term limits. Also, Hall essentially disproves the latter point by showcasing the disadvantage of extremism in elections.
Pro really trips up here. Here is my opponent’s plan:
Free and Fair Elections
Popular sovereignty, as my opponent notes, could be overridden by other, compelling concerns. The bulk of my evidence raises concerns about congress posing a weak check against the president, increasing polarization, and increased congressional careerism. I’m sure judges can see that I offer a compelling reason to outweigh.