Lord Acton didn't know from term limits, but he articulated an enduring truth about government with his oft-quoted maxim that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." A new study from the Cato Institute suggests that this tendency is a function of time.
Since the GOP sells itself as the party of smaller government, author Aaron Steelman reviewed only the voting records of Republicans. He compared newer members of Congress--those who would still be eligible for office if the Contract with America's term limit provisions (three terms in the House, two terms in the Senate) had become law--to their longer-serving elders.
On 27 of the 31 tax, spending, and regulatory votes examined, the junior statesmen were more likely to opt for government restraint. For example, 61 percent of the junior GOP senators voted against hiking the minimum wage, while only 22 percent of senior solons did so. On a House vote to reduce funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a welfare handout for big corporations doing business abroad, 61 percent of the younger representatives saw fit to cut; only 40 percent of their elders followed suit.
Since writing term limits into the 1994 Contract with America and engineering a lackluster losing vote on the matter shortly after gaining a congressional majority, the Republicans have largely kept mum on the issue. Perhaps that's because, as the party in power, they now see term limits as a nuisance rather than a necessity. Steelman's analysis gives further evidence that for lawmakers, being in Washington eventually means being for Washington.