Cato Studies: Gingrich’s 12‐​Year Term Limit Would Weaken Reform

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House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s case for a 12‐​year limit for members of the House of Representatives will not withstand scrutiny, writes Seattle Law School professor James Bond in “Temporizing on Term Limits: The Speaker Likes 12 Years, Not 6” (Briefing Paper no. 22). Many Republicans, and a number of Democrats, have realized at last that they can no longer ignore an issue that Americans of all demographic categories support by such overwhelming margins, Bond writes. So politicians are trying to cut the best deal they can with the voters by proposing measures that limit their terms to 12 years in the House, not the 6 years that most term‐​limit states have already passed. Twelve years is the limit that many states have already enacted for the Senate.

Bond argues that, contrary to Gingrich’s view, unequal limits in the House and Senate are perfectly consistent with both the framework of the Constitution and the Great Compromise between large and small states. Moreover, he writes, Gingrich’s claim that “a six‐ year learning curve is just too short” suggests that he didn’t listen carefully to the voters last November. The message of November was not that the voters wanted Washington to learn how to govern better. It was, Bond says, that they wanted Washington to govern less, to return power to the people — including the power to set limits on the terms of their representatives.

Economic Security Policy Called Risky

The Clinton administration’s policy of using federal power to ensure “economic security” could increase global tensions and backfire, writes Cato adjunct scholar Stanley Kober in “The Fallacy of Economic Security” (Policy Analysis no. 219). Kober writes that the policy is based on the mistaken belief that a trade deficit is a problem. Moreover, the administration has focused its policy on Japan, notes Kober, but it fails to appreciate the numerous difficulties affecting the Japanese economy. Putting pressure on Japan at a moment of economic weakness risks creating a reservoir of anti‐​American sentiment. Finally, the obsession with economic security creates a risk of repeating the unfortunate mercantilist policies of the late 19th century, which exacerbated economic rivalries. Kober says that those rivalries spilled over into the political and military arena and ultimately led to World War I.

The Clinton policy of using political and economic muscle to create an international playing field tilted toward the United States is extremely risky, Kober warns. He points out that it is likely that other countries will respond in kind, increasing global tensions. He calls on the administration to abandon its neomercantilist policies and renounce the concept of economic security.