Last week, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines reaffirmed his support for term limits in Congress, announcing that he favors a constitutional amendment limiting U.S. senators to two terms and representatives to three. He has supported similar legislation in the previous two congressional sessions as well.
But now that his standing in the Senate has been elevated with a seat on a powerful new committee position, perhaps he ought to give deeper consideration to the downsides of term limits.
Daines served a single term as Montana’s representative in the U.S. House and is in his first term as a senator. From that relatively novice position, it is easy to argue that term limits are necessary in order to prevent politicians from becoming too entrenched. The thinking goes that, by treating the job as a temporary assignment, rather than a lifelong career, politicians are compelled to make the most of their limited time by focusing on legislating, rather than on fundraising for their next re-election campaign.
“Too often, career politicians lose sight of why they are in Washington, D.C., and who they are there to serve. When politicians become more focused on looking out for their own self-interest instead of the needs of their constituents, it’s time for things to change,” Daines explained in a prepared announcement. “Term limits will help ensure that the government is accountable to the people and bring new voices with fresh ideas to the Capitol.”
Last week Daines introduced a couple of other bills aimed at holding members of Congress accountable: the Balanced Budget Accountability Act and the No Work, No Pay Act. The Balanced Budget Act, which he has also introduced in previous years, and which Montana’s U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte introduced in the House, would place a hold on paychecks for all members of Congress until they pass a balanced budget.
The No Work, No Pay Act would hold their pay during any government shutdowns. Daines already has requested that his own pay be withheld until the current shutdown ends, and has signed on to the End Government Shutdowns Act, sponsored by eight other Republican senators, which would create an “automatic continuing resolution for any regular appropriations bill not completed by the Oct. 1 deadline.” This too is a bill that has been introduced in previous congresses.
While his continued efforts to hold Congress accountable are laudable, if unsuccessful as of yet, Daines would do well to re-examine his position on term limits as he advances in seniority.
As we have witnessed firsthand with Montana’s Legislature, term limits ensure that legislators with the most legislative experience are ineligible to run for office, regardless of the wishes of their voting constituents. If voters are unhappy with an incumbent, they are free on any Election Day to choose a replacement. With term limits, they are robbed of this choice.
On a national scale, the disadvantages of term limits fall heaviest on states like Montana. Lacking a comparatively large population – and thus few representatives in the House to carry their states’ interests in that chamber (Montana has only one congressman) – senators of rural states have little clout outside from that gained by seniority.
This year, Daines saw his clout increase significantly with a new post on the Senate Finance Committee. Senate Republican leadership named him to serve on a total four committees, each with momentous influence over Montana’s fortunes: Finance, Appropriations, Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), and Indian Affairs. Dains is no longer on the Agriculture Committee.
Daines and Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, are the first senators to serve on both the Finance and Appropriations committees since 1944, and had to sign special waivers in order to do so.
Republican Daines has served on Appropriations with Montana’s Democrat Sen. Jon Tester since 2015, helping to ensure Montana isn’t overlooked in major federal spending decisions. With his position on Finance, Daines will also have a say over matters concerning taxes, trade and federal debt, along with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs.
Should Daines choose to run for a second term, these committee seats all but ensure a major fundraising boon. Should he ever wish to run for a third term, his stated commitment to term limits may come back to haunt him.