America’s economic future is in grave jeopardy. The nation’s national debt now stands above $17.5 trillion with a debt to GDP ratio that is higher than at any time since the end of WWII. Runaway federal spending is more than $3.5 trillion while America’s debt per citizen has ballooned to $55,000. Even worse, our political system not only appears incapable of resolving this fiscal crisis — but it is actually exacerbating it.
Long congressional tenures — a staple in Washington politics and plague on the body politic — are actually directly responsible for rising levels of government spending. While increased spending has many causes, a new report published by public policy advocacy group Our Generation establishes a direct link between congressional tenures and government spending. The study, which compares voting scorecards over a decade period, found that an average member of Congress was more supportive of government spending in 2010 than he or she was in 2000.
The data clearly demonstrates that longevity in office is likely to change an individual congressman’s voting behavior away from fiscal restraint and towards higher levels of government spending and taxation. Lengthy tenures of office are transforming our elected officials into big spenders as they become socialized to favor the government largess advocated by special-interests and a political culture that is rife with deal-making.
Term limits are an essential component of reforming our broken political system and bringing fiscal sanity to Washington. The report notes that those who have voluntarily retired from service in Congress stand out as the most fiscally conservative. Voluntary term limits have arguably contributed to a decline in political parochialism, as term limits inhibit voters from selecting representatives who deliver particularistic benefits. In these cases, term limits reduce pork spending. This serves to reduce the growth in the size and scope of government.
There is strong public support for this reform. In a recent Gallup Poll, nearly three out of every four Americans supported term limits for elected officials. Term limits at the state level have already been proven to create more energetic, independent, and effective legislative bodies. They have also been shown to stimulate electoral competition and enable nontraditional candidates to run for seats in state legislatures — which led to the election of candidates with real-world experience instead of career politicians. Term limits also weaken the leadership’s control of state legislatures and promote public policies more compatible with limited government.
The numbers are clear. Lengthy congressional tenures are increasing the size of government and endangering America’s fiscal future. And term limits are a crucial part of the solution to ending reckless spending in Washington, DC, our states, and communities.
MacMillin Slobodien is executive director of Our Generation, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting free-market public policy solutions.