Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Man With a Plan

I usually don’t agree with most of what William Galston pens in his weekly opinion columns in the WSJ, but his suggestion that we change the way we elect House members definitely has merit. Four-Year House Terms Would End the Gridlock:

When the Founders decided on a two-year term for the House, they could not have anticipated the consequences more than two centuries later. For newly elected members, the "permanent campaign" is the reality of daily life.

They must begin raising funds for their re-election the day they are sworn in. Because their terms are so short, they have no time to demonstrate the long-term merits of decisions that defy the passions of the moment, so every deviation from the sentiments of their constituents—including a modicum of cooperation across party lines—can be fatal.

The modern primary system intensifies the risk. Worst of all, turnout in midterm elections averages 20 points lower than in presidential years, so off-year elections hinge on the intensity of the party faithful, and relatively small changes in the electorate can generate huge swings. This system intensifies polarization and magnifies instability.

The solution is straightforward—four-year House terms synchronized with the presidential election cycle. This is not a new idea. In his memoirs, former president Dwight Eisenhower said that "By the end of four years [in office] . . . . I had become convinced that the term of members of the House of Representatives is too short." In his 1966 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson went further, calling for a constitutional amendment providing a four-year House term that would give newly elected members a chance to learn their craft and allow more time for governing rather than campaigning.

I’m not as concerned as Gallston is with the need to end the gridlock. And I think we might be better off to not have all the House seats contested in the same year as we elect a president. There could a rotating cycle somewhat like what we do with Senate seats. But I do agree that having members serve four year terms would allow them to focus more on the job they were elected to do and less on the next campaign which is always right around the corner.

The only thing I would add is term limits. Two four year terms max per House member. We don’t need seats that reside in the same family for eighty years (and probably counting) like we have with the Dingell Dynasty in Michigan.