Instigator / Con

Resolved: The US should institute congressional term limits


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 2 votes and with 3 points ahead, the winner is...

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Round structure:
Con skips first post
Pro posts constructive
Con posts constructive
Pro rebuts
Con rebuts
Pro crystallizes
Con crystallizes
Pro waives last round

Round 1
Per the rules, I waive this round to my esteemed opponent. 

I. Intro

After the conclusion of our Constitutional Convention, in which the framers worked tirelessly to hammer out the agreement which now guides this country, Benjamin Franklin was asked by one curious passerby whether the agreement the framers had reached established a republic or a monarchy. Franklin replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it."

Yet, keeping our democracy is no easy or comfortable task. Like any product of man, it is imperfect, and must be constantly and vigilantly guarded against decay, disease, and disfigurement. Imperfect though it undoubtedly is, no superior alternative exists for us to turn to.

In our mission to safeguard the democracy we possess, we must look to certain core principles which protect us from the more virulent threats to its wellbeing. These principles include: free and fair elections, government by the people, respect for institutions, and popular sovereignty. These are the principles at stake in this debate, and I'll explain more about them and the ways they are violated by the absence of term limits as I proceed to construct my case.

But before I move on to my arguments, it would be imprudent and disingenuous to say that there is no merit whatever in Con's position. Certainly, there is something to be said about building experience through service in elected office. What I object to is not that members of Congress are reelected; rather, I object to the ossification of our leadership strata such that turnover is insufficiently robust. Consider that the average US Representative in the 116th Congress had served over 10 years in their positions, indicating that the average member had been reelected six or more times! [12] And this is merely an average, imply at least half of the body as served longer still. 

Given the need to maneuver between two poles, I propose that House members be limited to 4 full terms (and up to one year of an additional partial term if elected or appointed to fill a vacancy) and that Senators be limited to 2 full terms (and up to two years of an additional partial term if elected or appointed to fill a vacancy). These term limits would not be applied retroactively, unless an elected official had served 36+ years in their current office. This position strikes a balance between the benefits of tenure and the importance of ensuring regular legislative turnover.

II. Free and Fair Elections

Most of us are of course familiar with the phrase "free and fair elections." We frequently pride ourselves on the freeness and fairness of our our electoral processes, while at the same time condemning the sham elections that happen in less fortunate parts of our world. However, familiar though we find it, "free and fair elections" is a notion surprisingly hard to delineate. 

Of course, there are the obvious cases like North Korea, where there is only one option on the ballot and where you are observed in the voting booth by armed guards ready and waiting to take you away for reeducation should you fail to tick that pre-approved box. But what about the non-obvious cases, which are all the more insidious for their veneer of acceptability?

Take my home state of Maryland, for instance. It is so heavily gerrymandered you cannot tell with the naked eye where one district starts and another ends. [1] Their borders snake throughout my state in pencil-thin lines as they create districts so densely populated with Democratic voters that they become impervious to challengers. In 2014, for instance, Democrats won 57% of the vote in Maryland, but carried 88% of the seats. [2] Republican voters become disenfranchised almost entirely, and Democratic voters lose out too, because none of their general election races are seriously contested. And don't just look to Maryland. In 2018, 47% of Texans voted for a Democratic candidate, but Republicans won 64% of the seats. [3] That same year in Ohio, Democrats also won 47% of the vote, but Republicans won 67% of the seats. [4] There is little point in voting in the races if the outcomes are such forgone conclusions. Gerrymandered elections are not free and fair, they are preordained and rigged. 

The threat that gerrymandering poses is similar to the threat posed by the absence of term limits. Gerrymandering creates conditions in which substantial barriers are raised to successfully challenging incumbent parties. Identically, the absence of term limits creates conditions in which substantial barriers are raised to successfully challenging incumbent elites. Gerrymandering conveys significant advantages to its beneficiaries just as incumbency does for its beneficiaries. The only meaningful difference is that gerrymandering does it for parties whereas incumbency does it for individuals. Either way, it's patently unfair. 

You see, having free and fair elections--which are the fundamental criterion for real democracy--means more than having an uncoerced choice in the voting booth. In Maryland you still have two or more option on the ballot and no armed guard is observing you in the voting booth ready and waiting to take you off for reeducation should you make the wrong choice. The question isn't whether you have an uncoerced choice, but whether you have a meaningful choice. And I know when I go to vote, that any vote for the Republican candidate for US Representative in my district, no matter who that person is, is a vote which is wasted and which never had a chance of meaning anything. That kind of a system is unfair, and it is the same way with incumbents.

Generally speaking, incumbents have the following advantages which help them retain office: "Name recognition; national attention, fundraising and campaign bases; control over the instruments of government; successful campaign experience; a presumption of success; and voters' inertia and risk-aversion." [5] Incumbents may scare off potentially strong challengers. [6] They certainly are able to leverage media coverage with press releases, legislative maneuvers, speaking invitations, townhalls, and more. Incumbents also have important fundraising and financial benefits. For instance, "as the cost of mounting a political campaign has risen, incumbency in Congress has created an important financial advantage in attracting the money needed to win. Since 1990, the cost of a winning a House seat has roughly doubled, adjusted for inflation, to about $1.5 million. If you're looking to win a seat in the Senate, expect to raise more than $10 million." [7] Indeed, on average, an incumbent can expect to earn $500,000 for their reelection campaigns than non-incumbents. [8]

These incumbency advantages can be accounted for statistically. Consider that "since 1964, voters have sent their incumbent House representative back to Washington 93 percent of the time. Senators enjoy only slightly less job security — 82 percent." [7] In 2000, incumbency advantage was worth about 6 percentage points in any given election, and this advantage was becoming steadily larger. [9] Other estimates place the advantage as high as 8 or 15%. [10, 11] So, in a district with a partisan lean of R+2 (meaning that the district is already 2 points more favorable to Republicans, all else being equal), a Republican incumbent could expect to have an actual advantage of R+17. A seventeen- or ten-point advantage is built-in job security. And what is most interesting is that incumbency advantage increases in more competitive districts. [10] This puts voters in a no-win situation. In gerrymandered districts, they are denied free and fair elections by the gerrymandering, and in competitive districts, they are denied free and fair elections by the incumbency advantage.

III. Government by the People

A government by the people is one which reflects those it serves. It is one where its officials are duly elected, yes, but it's more than that. It must be in some respect a mirror of the society which it oversees if it is to have any genuine idea as to that society's interests, aspirations, and needs. Indeed, one could argue that an all-white government ruling over a majority black nation, as was the case in apartheid South Africa, is not a government "by the people" but rather is a government "by a certain group of people."

But we can consider less extreme examples as well. Suppose that there is a planet filled with people that have either blue or pink spots, and that the color of one's spots is socioeconomically indicative. Suppose further that 55% of the planet has blue spots and 45% has pink spots, yet the planet's legislature is 75% blue-spotted. Here again we should take issue with this situation. The pink-spotted population is severely underrepresented in the government, and so are more "ruled over" than "self-ruled." Their interests are likely to be sidelined and their voices are likely to be disproportionately excluded due to the lopsidedness of their representation in government.

Democracy in a diverse nation should be a partnership between the groups therein. But when one group is disproportionately more likely to possess government positions, the partnership begins to feel more like a dictatorship-by-ethnicity in which one group can impose its will on the others, using the organs of government. Rule by the people requires some notion of proportionality and diversity in a nation such as ours, because otherwise we don't have rule by the people collectively, we have instead rule by one segment of the people over the rest.

The use of term limits holds enormous promise for advancing the diversity of our own legislature. It is indeed only logical that as more incumbents retire due to their term limitations, office-seekers from diverse backgrounds (who are showing an increasing penchant for running for office [13]) will take office at higher rates. This logical chain is also supported by data: "The states without term limits saw a 1.8 percent increase in female emergence post term limits (1996-2010). While the states with term limits increased female candidate emergence by 2.4 percent...[T]he results show that the increase in female emergence was 33 percent larger in states with term limits." [14] Because women and minorities are becoming increasingly more likely to seek office, they are more likely to win office when those offices become vacant. Given the stagnating and ossified nature of our political system, steps towards needed diversification can only be attained at an acceptable pace with enforced retirements.

Ultimately, then, "term limits can help refresh the leadership ranks, because no officials can remain in office for very long. Similarly, there is an increased likelihood that minority candidates and female candidates will run and get elected, thereby improving representativeness." [15]

IV. Popular Sovereignty and Respect for Institutions

Popular sovereignty, or the notion that democracies ought to be governed in general by the will of the people, is one of the core tenets of any healthy democracy. Given this principle, if a policy is desired by the population, that desire alone creates a strong presumption in favor of its adoption. Any argument against the adoption of such a policy must be quite compelling, because only such a compelling reason can be strong enough to legitimately override the will of the citizenry in a democracy. In respect to this topic, term limits are immensely popular: "75 percent of adults nationwide back term limits for members of the House and the Senate...Term limits received bipartisan support in the poll: Republicans would back such a measure 82 percent-15 percent; independents would do so 79 percent-17 percent and Democrats favored term limits 65 percent-29 percent." [16]

One must of course ask why it is the case people want term limits--and there are several reasons--but it's clear from this polling that Americans have grave doubts about our legislature as an institution and want to see action taken to reform and improve it. Congress's 24% approval rating is not merely lackluster, it is abysmal. [17] Taking bold steps to reform the institution are necessary to help restore trust in the body. Believing in our legislature is essential, because it cannot credibly perform its oversight or legislative functions without the legitimating authority that the public confidence gives it. The more we mistrust our Congress, the easier it becomes for misguided or power hungry executive agents to ignore, undermine, and thwart it with impunity. 

At least on one level, term limits would prevent politicians from becoming too cossetted and out-of-touch in the halls of power. In a storm of media, speaking engagements, meetings with power-brokers, taxpayer funded perks, and glitzy trips to foreign capitals, it becomes easy for representatives to fall out of touch with the people and communities that sent them to those grand environs in the first place. Only when our leaders understand our lives and situations, without the blinding forces of power and fame obfuscating their vision, can we truly begin to restore our trust in our democratic institutions.

In other words, "[t]erm limits would arrest the decline of congressional legitimacy, ensuring that Members would be more truly representative of their communities." [18]

V. Conclusion

We have a republic, if we can keep it. And how do we keep our republic? By taking steps to dismantle institutional barriers to free and fair elections like the incumbency advantage. By promoting the election of diverse candidates who actually reflect the composition and lived experiences of our communities. And by restoring faith in our democratic institutions by ensuring that our representatives stay close to the communities they serve, and are not sucked into the well of power, self-aggrandizement, and selfish politicking that is Capitol Hill. We need to bring our legislators closer to us, not allow them time to drift father apart. And so, to keep our republic for ourselves and our posterity, we need to enact reasonable term limits which strike a balance between experience and turnover, which honor tenure yet decry ossification. To keep our republic, I urge a Pro vote. Thank you.

VI. Sources

My thanks to Bla for the debate. I look forward to the debate, and now graciously cede the floor to him.
Round 2

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.

C2: Polarization

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).

A dearth of legislation to fix our evolving world, particularly in the area of immigration, poverty, and the budget will prove disastrous in the future. The impact of partisanship is visible now, as over 300 bills are stuck in the senate due to the acrimonious divorce between the 2 parties sparked by the 2016 election (13). Among my chief concerns is the impact of another government shutdown. CBO figures show that the prolonged shutdown that occurred in 2018 led to the GDP contracting by .2% in the final quarter of 2018 and a .4% reduction of GDP in the first quarter of 2019 (9). Government spending, employment, and departments charged with enforcing national security were all impacted. With the increased polarization, we can expect shutdowns to happen more frequently.

C3: Shifting Priorities of Lawmakers

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).

This raises an important question. If these lawmakers are not beholden to their constituents, exactly who are they beholden to? Research from Harvard University in May of 2018 suggests that term-limited representatives are more beholden to political parties (7). For one thing, future political appointments will be predicated on party loyalty. Parties expect diminished returns on lawmakers that refuse to adhere to their platform. This is granted validity from my evidence proving the increased partisanship as a result of term limits. Researchers at the University of Missouri were able to replicate the findings. In their words:

“Using data on bill cosponsorship from 41 states (82 chambers), we demonstrate that term limits reduce bipartisan cosponsorship even when controlling for average legislative tenure. We argue that term limits accomplish this by altering the incentives that legislators face” (15).

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.

While I am certain that Pro only has the best of intentions, congressional term limits pose numerous practical issues that cannot be resolved and do more damage to the public than good. While lofty ambitions of protecting democracy are important, it needs to be tethered to the real world. We cannot subsist on ideological foundations alone unless we find a way to apply them to real world. It is because of this, that I stand in the firm negation.

On to you Bsh1. 😊
Let's make this one for the record books.



I will now respond to Con's case.

I. Framework

Individual Dignity

Consequentialism would force us to trade our individual liberties and rights for some collective betterment. But this cannot be a requirement of morality. A right is nothing if not a trump against such considerations of outcomes. A right is a line in the sand which proclaims "here, but no further." Rights are our last moral bulwark against oppression and our final bastion against loss of our basic dignity. Without rights, we are not treated as persons with desires and interests of our own, but rather as mere conduits for the optimific interests of some larger entity. We cease to be self-directing people and instead become pawns in the game, and that cannot be what morality is about. To quote Benjamin Franklin once again: "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase Safety."


Con defines consequentialism as "the philosophical principle by which we measure the justness of an action by its tangible consequences." Yet that is too simplistic by far. First we must ask, what is a countable consequence? If I donate money to the Red Cross now, which somehow in 100 years leads to a future in which all humanity perishes, was my action right or wrong? Second, of course, is the question of whose consequence count? Consequentialist philosophers argue for an equal consideration of interests, because a harm is a harm, no matter who experiences it. But then should we worry about harming Hitler as much as we might worry about harming Mandela? To say that we should is patently absurd, yet it is necessarily entailed by Con's framework. And then, thirdly, when are consequences tangible? Certainly money is tangible, but what about my happiness? My emotion may be tangible to me, but what about the government? And if it is tangible, how can it be measured?

In other words, the problems with consequentialism are numerous: "treating the interests of good and evil people with equal consideration cannot be a requirement of ethics; that it is often hard to know what people's interests are; that treating interests with equal consideration presupposes that interests are commensurable, which they are not...Lastly…it makes a great difference whether people deserve the bad thing that threatens them [and] whether they have brought it upon themselves.” [19]

So let's not delude ourselves into thinking that consequentialism is clear and straightforward. The truth is just the opposite--it is as nebulous and ill-defined as "promoting the general welfare." And they are equally as nebulous because they are fundamentally the same--for what else is promoting good consequences if not promoting the general welfare? By referring to one as a "nebulous concept," Con has already condemned the other.

II. Brain Drain


We should note at the outset that all of the negative outcomes of brain drain that Con alleges rely on the premise that the Pro world will actually have a unique dearth of legislative experience. If I can show that the Congress in Pro's world is roughly as experienced as the Congress in Con's world, then it does not follow that brain drain will happen or that it will result in these negative outcomes. Indeed, there are at least four reasons to conclude that there will not be a unique dearth of legislative experience in the Congress of the Pro world.

First, the immersive learning environment of the Congress keeps the learning curve for legislators short. Indeed, "even House Members who only serve one term-- two years--clearly have time to develop significant experience. Despite the protestations of some foes of term limits that Members need a great deal of seasoning before they can make real decisions, no other profession requires two years of on-the-job training." [18] Moreover, Con's own source (his source 4) notes that legislators are learning the ropes faster than ever before.

Second, congressional legislators often have prior experience in state legislatures or on capitol hill, whether as elected officeholders, staffers, lobbyists, or activists. [18] They are elected to Congress then with an already established reservoir of experience in relevant legislative procedures, topic areas, and the like. This fact illuminates one of the core problems with the research Con cites (his sources 2-5), which all pertain to state legislatures. Elected officials in state legislatures are logically less likely to have held prior office for the simple reason that there are fewer prior offices that they could have held. Naturally, then, term limits in state legislatures will have a more significant impact than they will in the Congress with regard to experience.

Third, there are ways to mitigate experience gaps. For example: "The Arkansas House increased their number of speakers pro tem from one to four, one from each congressional district, thus widening the speaker’s leadership circle. They also established formal floor leader positions to help maintain party unity. In Colorado, staff has prepared leadership notebooks with calendar deadlines, procedural rules, and sketches of common floor situations, problems and reactions...In Arkansas, each of the 10 House standing committees now has three permanent subcommittees, each with a chair and a vicechair, giving many people committee responsibility and experience. In Maine, committee staff maintains files including bills considered, testimony received and amendments offered for several sessions before they are transferred to state archives." [20] These techniques and strategies both increase opportunities and make resources available for learning.

Fourth, the plan I am defending mitigates any losses in net experience. Consider that lawmakers currently serve an average of 9-10 years, and my plan would allow them to serve a maximum of 9 years in the House and 14 years in the Senate. [12] If most lawmakers will serve for the maximum allowable number of terms (which is likely due to incumbency advantages and gerrymandering), it is probable that the average service tenure would be somewhere around 7 years--which is not a significant decline. The marginal loss of experience between 7 and 9 years is likely to be negligible. 


Lobbyists would likely not gain power due to their lack of interpersonal relationships with new members. "the strength of special interests actually would be vastly diminished by term limits. Special-interest lobbyists thrive precisely because of the relationships they have with and the investments they have made in long-term incumbents...The rapid turnover created by term limits would make these connections less useful and confine lobbyists' influence to the strength of the arguments they make on the merits of issues." [18] 

Oversight and Impact

Con argues that newer legislators are less effective, and therefore less able to hold the executive to account. Con measures the effectiveness of legislators "by calculating the number of bills introduced, whether they passed committee, and whether they went to the other chamber of the bicameral congress." This is a very specific measurement of legislative effectiveness, which overlooks another important yardstick of effectiveness, namely, hitchhikers, or "bill proposals that become law as provisions of other bills. Counting these 'hitchhiker' bills as additional cases of bill sponsorship success reveals a more productive, less hierarchical, and less partisan lawmaking process...In every category and in every Congress, hitchhikers add a substantial number of new legislators to the list of effective members." [21] And legislators can be effective in other other ways--by seeking documents from federal agencies, by exercising subpoena power in committee, etc. So ultimately, Con's metric of effectiveness is flawed and myopic.

But beyond the problems with Con's measure of effectiveness are concerns about the causal links in his argument. He implies that executive overreach is somehow the result of term limits. But that makes no sense, because the examples of executive overreach Con cites are happening in the status quo, which does not have Congressional term limits. Obviously, it is not the inexperience of Congress which is enabling these bad behaviors.

More likely culprits for this phenomenon are gridlock, power-mongering, and bogeymen. Political gridlock in the form of McConnell-esque legislative blockades prevent necessary legislation from moving through Congress. Unable to achieve their objectives through the regular, legislative process, Presidents turn to executive orders and other mechanisms to accomplish their goals. Power-mongering in the form of executives who simply do not want to respect the legislative processes. And bogeymen in the sense that the specters of terror and crime linger over an America still coping with the legacy of 9/11 and the mass shootings it is so regularly tortured by. These bogeymen become rallying points for the kind of state surveillance Con bemoans.

As for budgets, in recent years, no Presidential budget has ever been passed as proposed, and it's highly unlikely that Trump's budget will ever make it through Congress. [22, 23] So this is not really the example of Presidential power that Con intends it to be. If anything, it shows the limits to that authority and where the President can truly be rendered impotent in the face of Congressional will. And, in California, it is not clear that term limits were the cause of the lack of changes to the Governor's budget. Perhaps more political agreement is the source, particularly now that Democrats control all tiers of state government (which was not the case when Schwarzenegger was in office).

II. Polarization

Newness vs. Electorate

Con claims that term limits produce increased polarization given the reduced time legislators have to develop working relationships with colleagues from across the aisle. But there is a more plausible, alternative explanation, namely that polarization is reflected in freshman representatives, and not caused by their freshman status. As the country has become increasingly polarized, it becomes harder to win primaries and gerrymandered districts without pandering to the base. As voters demand more ideologically pure candidates, the freshman representatives they elect are more likely to be ideologically pure. These representatives are not partisan because they are new, but partisan because they we're chosen by highly partisan electorates. Indeed, in less gerrymandered districts, we would expect to see less partisan candidates, and we do in freshmen like Jeff van Drew and TJ Cox.

Second, new members simply are not more partisan. Research has found "no evidence that term-limited legislators are any less representative [of their constituents], and no differences in levels of party polarization appear associated with the term limits reform." [24] Indeed, "legislators are ideologically consistent in their roll-call voting, even when they know they will not be running for re-election [due to term limits].I find that term limits have no effect on either the ideology of their voting or its partisanship." [24] This finding supports the interpretation that it is not the "newness" of members which matters with regard to polarization, reinforcing my earlier argument that "representatives are not partisan because they are new, but partisan because they we're chosen by highly partisan electorates."


The problem with the argument regarding gridlock is that it does not appear that this gridlock was caused by newer members. Look, for example, to the shutdown example Con cites. Foremost in that fight were McConnell, Pelosi, Schumer, and McCarthy--three of whom have been in Congress since before I was born. The cause of the shutdown was a dispute over funding for Trump's border wall, which not even long-established legislators on the Democratic side could be seen to support. And as for the GOP, "McConnell blocked the Senate from considering any appropriations legislation that Trump would not support." [25] So, it does not seem as if Con has any causal link here between term limits and the shutdown, as experienced legislators were the ones who engaged in the brinksmanship that produced the shutdown.

III. Shifting Priorities

First, this argument is wholly non-unique. It is already the case that legislators, who stay only for an average of 9-10 years, seek more lucrative jobs in the Washington bubble or run for a different office after retiring from Congress. [12, 18, 26] Since in the Pro world, this calculus is essentially the same (stay for 8 and 9 years, then retire for greener pastures), it does not follow that the Pro world will experience any substantially greater shifting of priorities than already happens in the status quo. 

Second, research has found that "there is no support for the hypothesis that chambers with term limits are less representative of their constituents’ preferences than those without term limits." [24] Indeed, in a literature review by that same source, it was determined that while "some studies have found evidence of members of Congress shifting positions in their last terms to better fit with their future aspirations...the bulk of these last-term-effect studies have found no consistent effect at all.The most recent work finds small changes for retiring members of the House of Representatives, but the approach used is controversial." 

Third, the Con world opens the door to ossification, in which legislators without ambition or talent languish in the body for ages, unwilling and unable to move up and out. Indeed, most research supports the claim that talent legislators are quickly promoted and advance, such that legislators who fail to make leadership and fail to proceed to higher office are more likely to be bad at their job than good at it. [27] Term limits would rid us "of the much larger number of timeservers who have learned nothing from longevity in office except cynicism, complacency, and a sense of diminished possibilities." [18]

Fourth, there is limited explanation as to why elected officeholders will be behold to political parties in the Pro world. But the fact that there will be increased electoral competition in the Pro world strongly suggests that legislators will be keen to pay attention to their constituents needs, and not pander to the powers-that-be. [28] This is also non-unique, given that people seek appointments in the status quo.

IV. Sources

19 - John Kekes, The Illusions of Egalitarianism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003) 120-125.

Please vote Pro. Thanks also to Bla for his reply. The floor is his.

Round 3


Pro suggests that consequentialism would violate the individual freedoms awarded to every person.
It is not tenable to grant everyone unfettered individual rights. For example, criminals are precluded from acquiring weapons in prison. The restriction prevents future killings and the US is safer for it. While the US should value the worth of the individual, it needs to be balanced against the consequentialist virtue of the general wellbeing that people are due from their government. In a world that only values individual freedoms, we would never enact traffic laws, minimum safety standards, or mandated elementary education because it impedes people’s rights despite increasing the quality of life for everyone.

Pro’s chief objection is that consequentialism is nebulous because a) philosophers who subscribe to consequentialism view all interests as equal, regardless of who holds them and b) what’s “tangible” is not clear.

My framework is ideal in guaranteeing the “general welfare of the people,” which is the foremost purpose of lawmaking. The welfare of the people cannot be measured purely with lofty ambitions. It is only the consequences of law that the people experience.

Nevertheless, here are my answers to his questions.

In policymaking, there are already systems in place which preclude certain people from receiving benefits if they have broken society’s rules, namely criminal sanctions. I don’t understand the need for creating a hierarchy of citizens. Surely, a government is just as beholden to me as any other US citizen in the nation, yes? Even those arrested are afforded some rights.

Also, the word tangible in this sentence means “able to be felt.”

Brain Drain

Pro starts by suggesting that the learning curve for becoming a good legislator is becoming shorter than ever. He uses a few quotes to prove his point. I show that novice legislators are statistically less likely to pass bills. Given the threadbare evidence, I won’t spend too much time here.

Next, my opponent implies that state legislatures foster the necessary skills for the federal legislature. While some overlap may apply, they are not equivalent at all. State legislatures vary in professionalism. For instance, while California offers full-time positions with high pay and a decent size staff to lawmakers, this is not the same for other states (13). Rural states tend to offer only low-paying positions that require other sources of income for legislators. Most importantly though, many legislatures fail to provide adequate staffs (13). There is a reciprocal problem in Congress, where total staffing has decreased measurably in all legislative offices (14). Less support from staffers for newer lawmakers prevent them from becoming acclimated to their job.

Also, only half of current senators federally ever step foot in their state senate (15) and that even if they did serve previously, they would be forced to start anew in Congress with no working relationship with others established. As the Brookings Institute notes, newer lawmakers are more likely to defer to senior lawmakers (16). Finally, considering the number of states with term limited legislatures, they might not have garnered much experience though their brief stint.

a. Double Bind

Pro rebuts my contention by mentioning that his plan solves for this because, on average, legislators serve 9-10 years. His term limits are lenient enough to allow for senators and house members to serve this amount of time.

If most lawmakers do not exceed his term limits, then he undercuts his affirmative ground tremendously. All his points, be it the diversity of Congress or the incumbency advantage, are predicated upon Congressional attrition rates increasing enough to allow for change. It is hard to argue that incumbents lose their advantage under Pro’s plan if after 10 years they typically leave anyway. Similarly, it is hard to argue that the composition of Congress will change if senior members do not leave vacancies open to be filled by minority representatives at any greater pace. The only people Pro would remove from office are those that were able to secure multiple terms in office, who are usually more effective lawmakers. He places a double bind on his case. Either he cedes nearly all his offense or admits that his plan doesn’t solve for my concerns.

My opponent’s final objection to my arguments concerns the way in which I measure legislative effectiveness because the measure fails to account for subpoenas, hitchhiker legislation, and sponsorships (the final of which is calculated in my study. I forgot about it)
Conventional wisdom and common-sense dictates that if freshman lawmakers are unlikely to perform other duties of the legislature if they hardly pass bills or move them through committee. They are new to the process, so issuing subpoenas or attaching riders would likely be out of their comfort level. Interviews from the National Council on State Legislatures revealed this from Arizona’s legislators:

“In the past legislative leaders emerged slowly, they had a chance to learn the ropes, now everything happens too fast” (17).
His sentiments were reflected by at least 5 others as well.

Does this system churn out senators willing to write subpoenas and legislation, rider or not? No.

The bulk of his objection is about my impact though. He states that my examples suggest that the overbearing executive branch exists in the status quo. My argument was that only through allowing senior members to stay in Congress can we expect bipartisan deals to be struck, preventing the status quo from getting worse. Despite the ire lobbed at Congress, they can form coalitions to get important legislation passed. If it were not for the senior leadership in Congress, we would still be experiencing a government shutdown. For example, the Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group dedicated to key policy areas and were instrumental in passing legislation to avert a government shutdown (18). Groups like these would lose clout if their senior members, the best ones at drafting and passing policy, were to be term-limited out. Conversely, the power of the executive would rise. Cross-apply my evidence showing that states experienced a surge in executive power relative to their legislative branch causing fewer budget alterations. It has gone uncontested.


My opponent never touched on my point about programs becoming orphaned as a result of term limits. When new plans are developed, they rely on colleagues vouching for their continued funding. With most colleagues gone after a few terms, programs will fall by the wayside.


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.
Polarization from newer members is evident when you look at AOC. As a new member, one of her contributions to Congress was the Green New Deal, a much-reviled package to Republicans and a mixed bag for Democrats. Term limits, according to researchers at the University of Missouri:
“reduce bipartisan cosponsorship even when controlling for average legislative tenure. We argue that term limits accomplish this by altering the incentives that legislators face” (20).

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).

Shifting Priorities

My opponent’s own evidence contradicts his claim. According to Pro’s evidence 24:
“I find that the impact of term limits on roll-call voting is manifested in decreased legislative effort, but this effect only appears in the more demanding legislatures.” My impact was not simply that legislators will stop caring about their constituents. Legislators that realize their time is up will stop caring about reaching across the aisle to make legislation. I offered 2 sources validating this claim, one about polarization from Harvard (19), and the other form the University of Missouri (20).

My opponent decries ossification, in which senators wade in their position without contributing much. I’ve already shown that senior members typically don’t do this and are 4 times more effective than their newer counterparts at introducing and passing legislation. That aside, I am confused. Pro, do senators typically last only 9 years in office or not? If they usually only last 9 years, then there is not too much ossification.

Onto my opponent’s case


Don’t let Pro change his plan. Changing his advocacy would skew the debate in his favor and require me to spend more time refuting additional planks.

Free and Fair Elections

My opponent’s primary argument here is that American democracy is endangered because incumbents have an inherent advantage, making elections unfair for worthy opponents.

First, while Pro characterizes incumbency as a prime advantage in senate and house elections, this is swiftly becoming an antiquated perspective. FiveThirtyEight in December of 2018 makes a firm case for the dwindling advantage of incumbency. They found that while incumbency benefitted senators up to 2 terms, 3-term senators were less likely to win an election (1). House members were awarded a small advantage according to the research, but the advantage was measured to be roughly 2 percentage points no matter how many terms a given house member served previously (1). If you looked at Pro’s sources, you would think otherwise. This is because Pro cited evidence from the election in 2000. Recent research has ameliorated concerns of vast power being exercised by incumbents. Researchers at the University of California in 2016 found that the incumbent advantage of House members shrunk to pre-1960 levels, largely due to the rise of party-line voting (2).

Finally, I contend that it is less fair to preclude popular figures from running. Now that we have determined that incumbent advantages are not the supposed game-changers that Pro purports them to be, we realize how flagrantly undemocratic they are. A cornerstone of democracy is an election in which anyone can run. If we place restrictions on who can be chosen, then we are fundamentally restricting the options people have. Cross-apply my evidence showcasing the legislative prowess of incumbents, specifically that they are 4 times more effective than their novice counterparts (4). Legislators who are better at overcoming institutional barriers and not falling victim to party politics will be better equipped to do their job. A true government by the people and for the people will surely not expel all effective members from running again, particularly if people want them to serve consecutive terms.

Government by the People

Pro contends that term limits increase representation of women and other groups who were previously precluded from the legislative process. As demographic shifts increase the population of women, African Americans, and other groups, the legislative bodies should match these shifts as well.
Empirical research to demonstrate the causal relationship between term limits and minority representation is lacking. Despite Pro’s claim of a marked increase in women representation in government, he does not measure the impact of attrition on legislatures. Governing Magazine estimates that female representation in state legislatures has stagnated since the 1990s at a measly 25% (5). The director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University explains why:
"The challenge became recruiting enough women because ground was lost when women were kicked out because of term limits (5)."
When Rutgers conducted a statistical analysis of the 1998 and 2000 elections, they found that in state house’s, representation for women decreased as more term-limited women left their posts (6). The term limited state senates saw a slight uptick in representation, but only for one election (6). Rutgers also noted that women were less likely to be independent “go-getters” when it came to campaigning (6). American University published a widely cited study in 2013 detailing the many reasons why women exhibit reticence at the notion of running for office. In the survey of over 2,000 college students, males were 60% more likely to consider themselves highly qualified for a government position than women (7).

The National Conference of State Legislatures in their 2006 report found that between 1994 and 2004, only South Dakota and California experienced an increase in female representation, while most term limited legislatures lost women representation (8).
There is no evidence to suggest that representation bolsters legislative attempts to aid minority groups even if there was a slight benefit conferred to prospective, female lawmakers. In fact, partisanship, which increases under Pro’s plan, will stall important bills addressing the rights of women. For example, the Violence Against Women Act, which was extended multiple times with bipartisan support, faced a major hitch in 2012 when it attempted to give protection same-sex couples and temporary visas for illegal immigrants facing domestic abuse (9). After a lengthy legal battle, it was enacted again. However, new attempts to reinstate the act after it expired have been quashed by the Senate who accused democrats of “not working” with them (10). Partisanship has placed beneficial programs in limbo (11), and term limits will exacerbate these problems. Newbies are not willing to compromise to pass laws that are fundamentally bipartisan.

Popular Sovereignty

Pro’s final argument is that since people want term limits, it is only fair that it is granted to them in a democracy.

My opponent is relying on the principle of direct democracy, in which the citizenry acts as the sole legislators. Not only does this not reflect reality, but it would be a net harm to citizens if they were the sole decision makers.

Just because most people vote for something does not make it rational. Historically, support for marijuana legalization was weak because most did not read the scientific literature which debunked most concerns about the drug’s danger, and instead imbued with intolerance due to widespread, often racist misconceptions about users and the drug itself (12).

I turn the floor back to Bsh1. I've never had to work this hard! You're really good!

Your move.

Thanks to Bla for the debate! I will now conclude. But first, Con cannot respond to dropped points or make new arguments, as this would be unfair.

I. Framework

Individual Dignity

I am not defending limitless rights. Certainly, it is possible to forfeit rights, like the criminal whose crimes cost them their right to bear arms. Similarly, my rights must end where others' begin, as my right to free movement does not allow me to trespass on your property. But rights remain trumps to consequentialist concerns--they are self-limiting, not limited by cost-benefit analyses.

Con agrees that we must value the worth of individuals, but consequentialism doesn't. Con drops my argument that consequentialism turns us into "mere conduits for the optimific interests of some larger entity. We cease to be self-directing people and instead become pawns in the game."


First, consequentialism's core tenet of equal consideration of interests requires us to weigh the interests of wrongdoers equally with others. That we have criminal sanctions is not a rebuttal to this point, because when the interests of criminals is weighed against the interests of the general public, the latter remain more weighty. But this in no way diminishes the point that the equivalence is itself morally objectionable. Consider, if given the choice between pointlessly shooting two murders in the feet or doing the same to one innocent person, consequentialism would hold that we should shoot the foot of the innocent person, because fewer are harmed. 

Second, consequentialism remains nebulous. (1) Con drops my argument that we don't know what consequences count (only immediate ones, or long-term?). Remember my Red Cross example. (2) Con says that tangible is "able to be felt," but I cannot "feel" the money in my bank account. Is money thus not tangible? And if happiness, which can be felt, is tangible how do we propose to measure it? Con never says, and it's too late in the debate for him to answer.

Third, Con drops many of the other disadvantages I applied to his framework, namely: "that it is often hard to know what people's interests are; that treating interests with equal consideration presupposes that interests are commensurable, which they are not...Lastly…it makes a great difference whether people deserve the bad thing that threatens them [and] whether they have brought it upon themselves.”  [19]

Thus, prefer my framework of ensuring the principles of free and fair elections, government by the people, respect for institutions, and popular sovereignty., about which my opponent has nothing to say. Extend my framework as dropped.

II. Brain Drain


Con drops that all of the negative outcomes of brain drain rely on the premise that my world will actually have a unique dearth of legislative experience. If I can disprove or mitigate that claim, the bulk of Con's offense evaporates. So I did address Con's "orphaned programs" argument.

First, Con drops my analysis that the immersive learning environment will keep the learning curve short. This logical warrant is unrefuted by any statistics Con offers, because all his stats refer to first-term legislators, and not those who have completed their immersion. Moreover, Con's own evidence confirms that legislators learn quickly. Con's only substantive reply is say that new legislators are less likely to pass bills, but remember that this metric of legislative effectiveness is flawed because it overlooks hitchhikers.

Second, only 16 states have legislatures which are part-time, and the overwhelming majority of those send fewer legislators to Congress because they are small. In hybrid and full-time legislatures, legislators spend 70+% of a full time job on the job. [29] And Con drops that it's not just legislatures that are springboards to Congress. Congressional staffers, other elected officials, lobbyists, and activists all bring experience and expertise to Congress. And, in the Senate, 96 of our sitting Senators have served in elected or appointed office, and many of them had established relationships in the House before moving to the Senate (nothing in my plan precludes such chamber-hopping). [30]

Third, Con completely drops that there are ways to mitigate  inexperience, as was done in AR, CO, and ME.

Fourth, I'll defend my plan later, but Con essentially admits that my plan would prevent the loss of a substantial amount of experience, because I cannot be in a double-bind unless it is the case that I am preventing the loss of a substantial amount of experience


Con drops my argument here.

Oversight and Impact

Con's argument on hitchhikers is logically fallacious. He writes, "freshman lawmakers are unlikely to perform other duties of the legislature if they hardly pass bills or move them through committee." But this begs the question. We don't know that freshman lawmakers hardly pass bills because Con's source doesn't count hitchhikers (which is a way to pass bills by inserting them into a larger bill). Indeed, hitchhikers might be highly appealing to new legislators because their bills can benefit from the inertia of the larger package of legislation. By failing to deny that his data doesn't include hitchhikers, Con admits that his metric is flawed and myopic.

Next, Con writes, "allowing senior members to stay...prevent[s] the status quo from getting worse." Yet, in the status quo, partisanship is getting worse. [31] So experienced legislators aren't holding back the flood. Indeed, they are poking holes in the dam. People like McConnell have instituted legislative blockades which have stymied Congress and heightened partisanship. Experienced legislators aren't leading the charge towards bipartisanship; they're complicit in undermining it. Cross-apply my dropped arguments about gridlock and the shutdown here. Con also drops my alternative explanation for why executive overreach is taking place.

Con drops my arguments about budgets.

III. Polarization

Newness vs. Electorate

Con suggests that my source is too old, but it isn't clear that matters. If new legislators are more polarized because they have interacted less with colleagues, that should be as true in 2007 as it is in 2018. Con's warrant is not time-contingent, so you cannot prefer his data just due to recency. It is too late in the debate for him to offer new reasons to prefer his evidence.

And turn Con's argument against him. Citing Con's own source (his source 4): "we find no evidence that term limits have contributed to rising legislative partisanship. New legislators are no more ideologically extreme...and the longer members are in the Legislature, the more partisan they become."

Con then uses the cherry-picked example of AOC. But if you calculate how often House members vote with Trump, in the 116th Congress, AOC has voted with Trump more than any other Dem. Representative bar one. [32]

Con also has no demonstrable causal link. My alternative explanation is essentially a confounding variable. We cannot isolate or identify a causal link between experience and polarization when other potential explanations for that link exist. Indeed, Con himself acknowledges that my alternative explanation is plausible when he writes: "Pro tries to point toward other culprits of increased polarization. I don’t doubt that they add to polarization...My opponent also claims that polarization in the US causes lawmakers to adopt more polarized positions. This appears to be true."

The Hall study is undercut by Con's own words, and does not consider two key points. First, increases in polarization do not need to come in leaps, they can come in inches. Candidates who are not extreme in an absolute sense, but are more extreme can increase polarization. Second, extreme candidates can pull moderates more to the edge, changing the center of political gravity and redefining what "moderate" means.


Con drops my argument here.

IV. Shifting Priorities

First, Con drops that his argument is entirely non-unique.

Second, my source does not backfire, because "comparing the individual-level roll-call participation rates shows that those in term-limited chambers have better records (92.4% for those not termed out and 92.1% for lame ducks) than legislators in chambers without term limits (90.4%)." [24] Only by making a series of debatable assumptions in the model does my source reach the conclusion Con selectively quoted. Additionally, Con drops the portion of my evidence (which was calculated separately) which demonstrates that legislators continue to represent their constituents throughout their time in office.

Third, Con drops that it is the least talented lawmakers that are going to remain in office past that 9-10 year mark. This is going to have a huge impact, because all of Con's offense relies on his claim that term limits shut out skilled legislators from continued service. But that's actually not the case. Term limits shut out bad legislators from continuing to idle uselessly in Congress. Instead of refuting the substance of my argument, Con just talks about the 9 year average, which I'll address later.

Fourth, Con drops my arguments that new legislators won't be beholden to parties, namely (a) competitive elections and (b) it's non-unique.

V. Plan

My plan established limits of 9 years (H) and 14 years (S). The average length of service for either in the 115th Congress lies somewhere between 9.4 and 10.1 years. [12] But an average is located at the center, implying that a substantial number of legislators overstay their welcome, and linger beyond 10 years in office. By my count, 126 Representatives have been in the House for more than 10 years, and 22 Senators have been in the Senate more than 14 years, and more are at the cusps of these thresholds. [33, 30]

Therefore, my plan increases turnover by opening dozens of seats to new blood. Moreover, my plan would ensure that the 30% of House members and 22% of Senators that are currently idling in Congress (and who are likely to be the least talented legislators) are unable to cling on aimlessly to their seats for years beyond their welcome. Logically,  my plan will probably reduce the average time in Congress to 7 years (30% less than the present), which is not a significant loss in average experience, but which certainly and appreciably boosts turnover. 

VI. Free and Fair Elections

First, I have four objections to the claim that the incumbency advantage is declining:

(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.
Second, Con argues that people should have the right to choose whomever they wish. But (a) that's non-unique, since there are age, citizenship, residential, and other restrictions on candidates in the status quo; (b) that's like saying gerrymandering is okay because it's still 1-person-1-vote; and (c) legitimate elections cannot be skewed elections where incumbents have all the advantages. Elections shouldn't be won by fiat, they should be genuine contests.

VII. Government by the People

Con drops that more women and minorities are running for office (see my source 13). This is particularly important, because of course data from 1990-2004 (which is almost all of Con's evidence on this topic) will not reflect the post-MeToo world. Now is the perfect time to impose term-limits, because women and minorities are more likely than ever before to seize the opportunity to run. My argument is time-contingent, so the fact that my data is the most recent (2017/2018) means you should prefer it. [14] Con's only recent data is a survey from 2013 which doesn't actually do any analysis on term-limits, and comes pre-MeToo.

VIII. Popular Sovereignty and Respect for Institutions

Con misunderstand my argument. Of course unfettered popular sovereignty is problematic, but I am not arguing for unfettered popular sovereignty. I explicitly stated that popular sovereignty could be overridden by compelling concerns, e.g. issues of rights. Nevertheless, we cannot have democracy without valuing popular sovereignty, and this creates a presumption in favor of the Pro world. Con drops that such a presumption exists.Con also drops that term-limits promote closeness between legislators and their constituents.

IX. Sources

X. Voting Issues

1. Framework

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.

3. Presume Pro

Per my argument on popular sovereignty, presume Pro in a close debate.

2. Con Lacks Offense

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.

4. Pro Has Offense

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.

Thank you! Please VOTE PRO!

Round 4
I’ll split this up into tackling my case, my opponents, and then voting issues. Note that a lot of the purported drops my opponent alleges are false. Also, while I clearly am not allowed to write new constructive arguments, this does not prevent me from responding to new rebuttals made by Pro. Since Pro was able to do so, the same privilege should be bestowed upon me.


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).

My opponent also mentions his framework, and that baffled me. I scoured his constructive case only to find that his framework is nonexistent. Pro espoused the importance of a fair election in R1, but never stated outright that all points should revolve purely around the freeness or fairness of elections. Maybe consequentialism is nebulous, but at least I included it in the debate.

Pro cedes my argument about individual rights when he admits that limitless rights is untenable. If he doesn’t need to defend unlimited rights, then I don’t have to defend his apocalyptic hyperbole concerning the use of consequentialism in policy making. My previous response highlighted how consequentialism is used in policy making today without breaching the rights of citizens. Weigh the real-life examples of how consequentialism benefits us (i.e. traffic laws, gun laws, etc.) over Pro’s hypotheticals

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.

Brain Drain

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.

My opponent posits that I dropped the “immersive learning environment” point. Citing 2 quotes to prove that learning legislative procedure is not evidence of an easy learning curve. My evidence points toward less lawmaking, sponsorships, etc. from newcomers (1). In my case, I also noted that:
“…researchers found that 10% of new lawmakers barely studied for new legislative items, while experienced legislators always studied (3).”
My opponent also fails to mention the lack of professionalization in state legislatures or the lack of adequate staff. He does mention that many senators were appointed previously to government positions. A federal judge, a governor, and a political aide have significantly different jobs and it is not clear if much experience in these jobs translates to legislating.  

a. Double-Bind
My opponent’s plan would not increase the rate at which congressional seats change because, per his evidence, most lawmakers only serve 9-10 years. My opponent’s plan sets the limit that lawmakers could serve at 9 years for house members and 14 years for senators. (as well as the immediate removal of legislators serving over 36 years). Most legislators will be voted out before his term limits constrain them, which means that any change in congressional turnover rates will be minimal. As I mentioned in my last round:

“The only people Pro would remove from office are those that were able to secure multiple terms in office, who are usually more effective lawmakers.”

Not only are lawmakers that served decades in congress vulnerable to removal, but so are the outliers that secure multiple terms. Legislators with more terms under their belt are more effective lawmakers (1). I don’t cede this argument, and my opponent doesn’t make it clear why I need to.

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.

Finally, my opponent states that I dropped his point about budgets. This isn’t true. I mentioned that despite his explanation, my studies offer proof that supplants any conjecture. Here is where I discuss my studies again:

“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
Note that I mention that virtually every other term-limited legislature suffers from the same problem. Cross-apply these studies like I cross-applied them in my last rebuttal.


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.

He mentions how gridlock can be caused by senior members but never utilizes a holistic statistic to prove this and resorts to cherry-picking senators. I, on the other hand, offered two studies demonstrating the polarization of congress and its effect on voting (2) (3).

Shifting Priorities

Pro defends his source that concluded “legislative laziness” was an effect of term limits by criticizing the methods by which it was generated.

“Only by making a series of debatable assumptions in the model does my source reach the conclusion.”

He never mentions these what these assumptions are, nor does he explain why they are spurious. If there are two parts of your study and one refutes the other, that tells me that you are relying on a bad study.

Pro repeats his claim that the least talented senators will remain in office. I will repeat my counterclaim:

My study shows the opposite (1).


Pro really trips up here. Here is my opponent’s plan:

“I propose that House members be limited to 4 full terms … and that Senators be limited to 2 full terms … These term limits would not be applied retroactively, unless an elected official had served 36+ years in their current office.”

My opponent responds to my “double-bind” argument by stating that 22% of the senate and nearly 1/3 of the house would be open to new lawmakers because they served over their allotted 2 and 4 terms respectively.

This is not what the plan entailed. Pro’s plan would not remove anyone from office unless they served 36+ years. Do not let Pro shift his plan. As I mentioned before, it is abusive to do so because it requires me to waste my time refuting additional planks that my opponent can keep generating to deal with my concerns.

What does this mean for his plan? Essentially, Pro loses nearly all his net offense. 2 of his contentions are contingent on congressional attrition rates skyrocketing to a) increase representation of women who fill in these seats and b) decrease incumbent advantage by booting all the incumbents. These points will not come to fruition. The only lawmakers being kicked out will be the ones that served multiple terms with galvanized working relationships and immense congressional experience (1).

Free and Fair Elections

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.

This is why I relied on more than 1 study, (namely, the University of California, San Diego (4)). Also, I don’t know why using a different model means that it cannot be compared to different years “directly.” In fact, the qualifier indicates that to some extent, it can be used to compare the incumbency advantage of today to past years.

2. By including elasticity scores in their calculation, 538 risks conflating the incumbency advantage with inelasticity.

Pro fails to define elasticity. He also forgot to mention my additional study (4).

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.

Whether “most” of your sources are recent does not matter. Your sources for the incumbency advantage look at past elections when the advantage was much higher.

4. Con drops the reasons I give for why incumbency advantage exists… 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.

I gave a reason as to why there was a fall in the incumbency advantage. It was party-line voting.

“Researchers at the University of California in 2016 found that the incumbent advantage of House members shrunk to pre-1960 levels, largely due to the rise of party-line voting.”

His final rejoinder concerns my fairness argument. He offers 3 responses.

a. Non-Unique
Just because there are other restrictions does not make it any less unfair that people cannot choose the candidate they want.

b. Gerrymandering
Pro compares gerrymandering to incumbency. Here is the difference: the incumbency advantage a) is shrinking and b) is not altered by my opponent’s plan. This is in stark contrast to Gerrymandering which confers unfair advantages to people years in advance based on party.  

c. Legitimate Elections Cannot be Skewed
Elections are skewed regardless if term limits are instituted. In fact, the degree to which term limits are skewed is heavily dependent on the incumbent advantage.

Representation in Congress

Pro states that most of my data comes from the 1990s and 2004. I provide data from as recent as 2016 (see the article from Governing) (5). I also use a 2013 study from American University to show that women are less likely to run and gives reasons why (i.e. self-esteem) (6). Even in a post-#Metoo world, it would be ridiculous to think that the barriers preventing women from running vanished completely.

Popular Sovereignty

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.


Voting Issues

a. Framing
My opponent has failed to offer a competing framework against mine. Default to consequentialism due to this and because despite his petty niggles, it is the best metric we can use to fulfill the government’s obligation to the people.  

b. Impacts
Through extensive research, I solidified the link between term limits and brain drain, polarization, and careerism. My opponent’s own research confirms this partially too.

c. Double-Bind
Even if you buy my opponent’s “framework” that he never mentioned until the final round, he fails t o fulfill his burden for free and open elections because he nets no offense. His plan would not increase congressional attrition rates to allow for women representation, to decrease the incumbent advantage, or substantially increase his nebulous concept of “fairness.” He has no solvency.


Thanks again to Bla for the debate. There was substantive clash and I enjoyed the back-and-forth. I believe that I have shown that turnover rates and new blood will increase with my plan, and that my impacts are valid even if they do not happen overnight. Thus, I urge a Pro Vote and, in mindfulness of the preordained structure of the debate, waive this round. Finally, thank you also in advance to the voters, especially if I do not have a chance to thank you myself.