A new case for congressional term limits

This reinforces Congress’s self­marginalization: Congress increasingly attracts people uninterested in reversing its institutional anemia. They are undeterred by — perhaps are attracted by — the fact that they will not be responsible for important decisions such as taking the nation into war. As Congress becomes more trivial, its membership becomes less serious. It has an ever-higher portion of people who are eager to make increasingly strenuous exertions to hold offices that are decreasingly consequential. To solve the braided problems of “a proconsular presidency or a quietistic Congress,” Weiner advocates congressional term limits…

In Federalist 51, Madison argued that the way to protect against a dangerous concentration of powers in one branch — today, the executive — is to give to persons in each branch the “constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.” So, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.”

Term limits are Madisonian measures, altering the incentives — the “interests” or “personal motives” — for entering and using public office. Term limits can define a conservative agenda of taming executive power by enhancing the power of Congress.