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Term Limits

In answer to Nicholas Beaudrot’s question about term-limits for congressional committee chairs I don’t think such limits are optimal policy. They are, however, superior to the leading alternative — strict seniority. The main impact of term limits is to enhance the power of the congressional leadership vis-a-vis committee chairs. That’s because all fairly senior members know that there’s bound to be a reasonable amount of limits-related churn, making the leaders’ views on what your next assignment should be very important.

This, in turn, is an important thing to do because the US government simply has too many veto points — bicameralism, the need for presidential ascent, strong judicial review, and fairly strong federalism make it quite difficult to legislate in the United States. The era of strong committee chairs (and of strong committees) introduced even more veto points into the system, giving special interests extraordinary ability to frustrate popular general-interest legislation. Term limits have led to stronger leadership and weaker committee chairs and that’s a good thing, even if ideally you might achieve that same result some other way.

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