“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton
Careerism – the making of a seat in Congress into a career (surely not!) The people occupying career seats become well versed in the use of all of the traditions and esoteric rules of the House and Senate, and thus many of them rise to positions of real power. Term limits will attack this root cause directly. As of January 2012, 37% of the House members and 39% of the Senate members had over 12 years of seniority – many way over. The most senior House and Senate members have 49 and 57 years of service respectively. Overbearing leaders – imbued with many years or decades of inside-the-beltway culture – must be a thing of the past. With congresspersons not focused on making Congress a career, they will be much more likely to concentrate their efforts on real problem-solving legislation. A problem-solving culture will attract candidates with a wider variety of backgrounds to Congress – candidates who have not been politicians all their lives. Term limits are favored by over 70% of the citizenry. Terms are limited by the proposed constitutional amendment in the Senate to two six-year terms and in the House of Representatives to three four-year terms.
Reducing the number of safe seats by creating multi-member districts will create more competition and reduce careerism. Significantly lowering the number of safe districts will make it much less common for a congressperson to have a safe seat. In 1978, about one-fourth of the seats were considered safe; that number had grown to nearly one-half by 2004. In the 2002 and 2004 elections for the US House, 99 percent of incumbents in both parties were reelected. In the last two midterm elections – the first a Democratic landslide, the second a Republican one – nearly 90 percent of incumbents still were reelected. Multi-member districts will greatly reduce the effects of gerrymandering and interject more competition into elections. If the proposed multi-member amendment clause were active today, only 8 of the 435 House seats would be in single-member districts.
The perquisites (perks) of Congress are numerous and excessive because Congress has been free to bestow perks on itself. They are an incentive for the incumbent to make a career of his job. Some perks like good parking places and dining rooms no doubt improve the efficiency of the workplace. However, other valuable perks like special pension plans, special medical plans, special tax treatment, and life insurance not only incent the incumbent to fight to stay in Congress indefinitely, but they insulate him from many of the trials and tribulations of the rest of us citizens, coloring his decisions on legislation.