Monday, December 19, 2016

Why Term Limits Won't Solve Anything

There's a lot of agitation around the issue of 'term limits for Congress'.  It sounds like a good idea — what we used to call 'LGOP':  Looks Good On Paper — but it misses the point, and won't solve the problem of Congressfolk getting filthy rich during their tenure.  What it will do is spread the wealth a little more evenly because Congress won't have as much time to amass wealth, and their successors will get their chance sooner.  The actual total amount won't change.

How does a Congressman (includes 'Congresswoman' in its generic form) become a millionaire?  They run for re-election.  Aided by 'name recognition', an incumbent has a huge advantage over any challenger absent a scandal.  It's axiomatic that unless the candidate is caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, re-election is almost guaranteed.  An incumbent will gather lots of campaign contributions from those who wish to be seen as 'friends', yet be able to run the campaign relatively cheaply thanks to that name recognition.  What's left in the campaign chest the day after election day belongs to the candidate, and it could be substantial.  Add to this that campaign contributions can dribble in over the full course of a Congressman's term, and we're talking lots of money.

Beyond that, Congressmen pay for nothing or close to it.  Lunch in the Congressional dining room is cheaper than your cafeteria at work because it's subsidized by taxes.  Basically, you're buying lunch for Congress.  They get, in addition to a lush salary, an allowance for office expenses including their staff.  When it's time to vacation in Aruba, some constituent can always be found to offer a ride on a corporate jet because the Congressman needs to see how our foreign aid dollars are being spent, etc.  If you were banking $160,000 each year, you'd be a millionaire before your first term in the House was up.  Now you're an incumbent.

None of this would change with term limits.  Senators would run for a House seat; Representatives would seek Senate office.  When term limits kick in, there's always 'lobbying'.

Money will always flow toward Congress regardless of term limits.  There will always be bribes and graft.  The reason is simple:  Congress has the power to micro-manage the economy.  They get to decide if this company or that one lives or dies.  Naturally, if you're the owner or CEO of a company, you want to make sure that Congress decides 'lives' rather than 'dies'.  You will make sure your Congressman (all of them, actually) know your name and how much of their campaign war chest you've contributed.  If you support term limits for Congress because you want to get money out of politics, you're barking up the wrong tree.  To get money out of politics, get power out of politics first.

The key to Congress' power over business and the economy is the 'Interstate Commerce Clause':  Article I section 8 grants Congress the power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;".  Originally this was intended to empower Congress to prevent states colluding with each other in ways that would enrich them at the expense of other states.  Imagine Pennsylvania and New York charging tariffs or 'inspection fees' for tobacco shipments originating in Virginia and destined for Vermont.  We are supposed to be living in The Free-Trade Zone of the Americas and the Interstate Commerce clause was supposed to make it happen.  Instead, during the FDR administration when the President needed Constitutional authority for doing all manner of things, the I/C clause was re-interpreted to provide that authority and the Supreme Court, under FDR's threat to 'pack' it, buckled under.  The result is what you see today:  Congress can do anything with impunity.  Anything.  That's not what the I/C clause was supposed to empower.

How do we know that?  Article I section 8 reads "Congress shall have power to" and goes on to list 17 things Congress shall have power to do.  As the I/C clause is currently interpreted, Art.I sect.8 says "Congress can do these 16 things and whatever the Hell else it feels like doing."  In fact, most of Art.I sect.8 is now redundant because the I/C clause is all that's needed.  Could that have been what the Constitution's writers intended?  How ridiculous!

So what happens when we re-establish a proper understanding of the I/C clause or, better, simply abolish Congress' power over interstate commerce?  The Drug War goes away.  The FBI goes away.  The FDA goes away.  The FAA goes away.  A horde of three-letter agencies evaporate: DHS, TSA, CIA, HHS, SEC, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, and the list goes on and on.  None of them are included within Congress' powers granted in I(8). 

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) occupies forty (40) feet of shelf space when printed, filled with regulations promulgated by nameless and unaccountable agencies, all of which you are responsible for following under penalty of the law.

What would your tax bill look like if it didn't include the budget for the thousands of bureaus and agencies Congress never had the authority to create?  More importantly, how important would term limits for Congress be without them?

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