Thursday, January 7, 2010

Against Permanent Senators


As hilarious as this post was, the idea that every Senator ought to be carried out of their seat in a pine box is a little crazy. While there are specific Senators—Ted Kennedy comes to mind—that have made the country better by staying in the world's most dysfunctional body for decade after decade, the general culture wherein elected officials hold office for as long as physically possible isn't particularly good for America. The near-doubling of tenure on the Supreme Court has been well noted, but the trend is the same in both the House and the Senate. Advances in medicine, relatively easier travel, and increased reliance on staff all make it easier for members to function well past their prime. Politics already tends to trail public opinion, and the increase in Congressional longevity is leaving our elected bodies whiter, older, more male, and more conservative than they would otherwise be.

Byron Dorgan's 67 years old. In a number of professions, he would be retiring late. But in the sick world of Washington, he's supposed to hold his seat until the day he dies. I may not like John Hoeven's politics, but surely reducing the average age of the Senate by 0.15 years is a step i nthe right direction.

3 comments:

Neil Sinhababu said...

This is well illustrated.

Ruckus said...

I agree with your stand here. But I call for term limits for all federal elected offices. The big problem with term limits is that most seem to want too short of limits. I like the president at 2 terms as the office has a lot of power vested in one person. But the house and senate should be longer because there is less power in each persons hands.
So I suggest 3 terms in the senate and 5 in the house. These are long enough that a congress person will be able to make a name for themselves (because that's all most of them are looking for) without having power becoming so corrupting. If someone is looking for a long career in politics at the national level they could run for the house (20 yrs) then the senate (18 yrs) If a person is the youngest possible they could start at 25 and would be 63 when limited out. We would have turnover, a modicum of new blood in congress and less power in any one individual.

Nicholas Beaudrot said...

The thing that makes the House weird is that you have lifers, whose goal is to build up seniority and become chairs of powerful committees, and then you have climbers who want to be Senator or Governor or eventually President. Or you have pepole who just want to serve and then be done with it.

I think you mean a limit of 10 terms in the House, which would get you 20 years. And that feels about right to me. I might go a touch longer, to, say, 12 terms in the House and 4 in the Senate. When you consider that major debates have been at least a generation long (the civil rights debate basically spans from 1948 to either 1965 or the mid-70s depending on how you count it, the HCR debate is basically from 1991 to today or even further) I think you need that institutional memory.