November 10th, 2009
07:59 PM ET
13 years ago

Senators seek to limit congressional service

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="'Americans know real change in Washington will never happen until we end the era of permanent politicians,' Sen. Jim DeMint said in a statement."]
Washington (CNN) - A handful of Republican senators have proposed a Constitutional amendment to limit the amount of time a person may serve in Congress.

Currently, there are no term limits for federal lawmakers, but Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, and several of his colleagues are advocating that service in the Senate be limited to 12 years, while lawmakers would only be allowed to serve 6 years in the House.

"Americans know real change in Washington will never happen until we end the era of permanent politicians," DeMint said in a statement released by his office. "As long as members have the chance to spend their lives in Washington, their interests will always skew toward spending taxpayer dollars to buyoff special interests, covering over corruption in the bureaucracy, fundraising, relationship building among lobbyists, and trading favors for pork – in short, amassing their own power."

Two-thirds of the House and Senate would need to approve the amendment - a stumbling block that short-circuited the idea 14 years ago. The new proposal echoes the Citizen Legislature Act, part of the original Contract with America proposed by Republicans before they won control of Congress in 1994. That measure, which would have allowed both senators and members of the House to serve just 12 years, won a majority in the Republican-controlled House in 1995, but failed because it did not meet the constitutionally-required two-thirds threshold.

"There is no question there are big obstacles in the way," said Philip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits, a non-partisan organization that advocates putting time restrictions in place. "It is difficult to pass a Constitutional amendment, however the goal is worthwhile and it is very important to the country. Also, if not now, when?"

This time around, proponents are not calling on lawmakers who believe in the idea to place a self-imposed term limit on themselves.

"If you are asking people to self limit, what might happen and what did happen, is that honorable politicians who made the pledge left office," while others did not, Blumel said. "The answer to the term limit supporter is not self limiting. It is the body as a whole."

DeMint, who is currently serving his first six-year term in the Senate, echoed Blumel's rational for dismissing self-imposed term limits.

"I want to be clear: demanding that reformers adopt self-imposed term limits is a recipe for self-defeat on this issue," DeMint said in Tuesday's statement. "We lost the battle for term limits after the 1994 Republican Contract with America because we forced our best advocates for reform to go home, while the big-spending career politicians waited them out. We must have term limits for all or term limits will never succeed. Only when we apply the same rules to all will we be able to enact vital bipartisan reforms."

One of the original co-sponsors of the amendment is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who is serving her third term in the Senate, but is expected to resign her seat to focus attention on a gubernatorial bid.

A spokesman for Hutchison said it is easy to square the fact that the Texas Republican is advocating for a cap of two terms even though she is currently in the middle of her third term.

"Throughout her career she has fought for term limits and continues to do so and that is why she is cosponsoring this bill," said Hutchison spokesman Jeff Sadosky. "But until it is passed, it would do a disservice to Texas and the people of Texas to do away with the seniority she has gained unless all the states and all of the senators hold themselves to the same standard."

The two other original cosponsors of the amendment are Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas. Coburn, a first-term senator, is up for re-election to his second term in 2010, while Brownback is retiring next year after pledging to only serve two full terms in the Senate. As congressmen, both voted in favor of the GOP's Contract with America term limit proposal in 1995. Coburn, a longtime term limits supporter, retired from the House in 2000 after serving three terms based on that pledge.

Filed under: Congress • Extra • GOP • Jim DeMint • Kay Bailey Hutchison • Sam Brownback • Tom Coburn
soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. BS Fan

    Voting is a simple form of term limits. If someone is not performing to their constituents, then they can get voted out. There are a limited number of people who are willing to put up with the disgusting attacks thrown at politicians and to limit that pool through term limits makes no sense. The American public is smart enough to decide wether congressmen should be kept or discrarded.

    November 10, 2009 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  2. Joshua

    Yeah, we tried this in California- would you like to see the results replicated at the national level? Politicians with term limits don't focus on their current roles. Their focus turns toward the next step: mayor, Congress, Lt. Gov., etc. America has had many good career politicians, and citizen servants as well. We just need a better media to give a clearer picture of who they are. Do we really want Congress to turn into a bunch of reality TV divas?

    November 11, 2009 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  3. stefan

    Now thats 'CHANGE I CAN BELIVE IN"

    November 11, 2009 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  4. john red

    best. idea. ever.

    November 11, 2009 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  5. cindy

    Yeah, this and an amendment that makes it illegal to spend more than they take in annually. Too many creeps in both parties

    November 11, 2009 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  6. Tired of the Politics of Fear!

    This is the one thing I totally agree with these people on!

    November 11, 2009 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  7. tjaman

    A CAPITAL idea! They're free to limit their own terms _immediately_ as far as I'm concerned. 😛

    November 11, 2009 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  8. Alan

    Now this is a bi-partisan look at Change!!!!

    November 11, 2009 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  9. Nea

    Oh so now that the Democrats is the majority they want term limits. Yeah go ahead because that means all the do nothings that just sit and collect taxpayers money time in congress comes sooner. Why not limited it to 2 years that way maybe we can limit the complainers because thats all that they do.

    November 11, 2009 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  10. Nick

    Like most GOPer proposals is stinks! (phew)

    November 11, 2009 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  11. James

    LOL @ Republicans proposing this. You know they aren't being truthful.

    November 11, 2009 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  12. Ken, Arizona

    Is he referring to the republican give-aways to the Insurance industry, the defense contractors, and Wall Streeters. If he wants term limits, he can just step down after his two terms are up.

    November 11, 2009 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  13. Craig

    This would be a great thing for our country. There are of course pro's and con's but it would finally get these stagnant and corrupt lifetime politicians a time limit to be self serving and pass horrible laws. I've been asking for this for years and is just below by desire to rid the country of the 2 party system(we need at least 3 for proper balance) and remove the lifetime appointments of federal judges. I have little to no hope that this will pass...but it is needed.

    November 11, 2009 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  14. Max in NY

    Honestly its the dumbest thing anyone could suggest.

    Does anyone who support this not understand: these people are voted into the branch they is not a dictatorship. If you don't like them, oust them with your vote, not by law.

    I really hate the term limit imposed on the presidency too. It was a dumb law passed after FDR was out of office, after he was ELECTED four times. He did arguably one of the best jobs, any man in that position has ever done. And based on those results (someone doing an outstanding job) it was decided that job should be limited? Why? Because George Washington served two terms? Thats exactly why. And it is retarded.

    The only time I've ever been happy of the two term limit: when George 'the village idiot' bush was in power.

    November 11, 2009 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  15. Chris

    This is the best news I've heard all day. I know it doesn't stand a chance of passing, but this is something I've wanted for ages.

    November 11, 2009 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  16. Yahbut

    Thank you Senator DeMint. Term limits are way overdue.

    November 11, 2009 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  17. Paul

    Let's see we want the professional politications to vote themselves out of a job with term limits? Yeah right. Not only will Congress not go for this I doubt enough states will. There are states that like they have very senior members of both houses. Helps bring home the pork barrel bacon. Also when it takes special interest money to get elected no matter who's there nothing will change. Faces might but the policies will be the same.

    November 11, 2009 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  18. mtnthc

    Term limits are a completely moronic idea, look where the have taken California. Fact is politicians who have nothing to lose are either complete sell-outs are uncompromising idealist. Terrible idea.

    November 11, 2009 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  19. Rosebud

    I totally agree! Term limits!

    November 11, 2009 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  20. Reaganomics Leads To Feudalism

    "Americans know real change in Washington will never happen until we end the era of permanent politicians."

    Correction Senator...

    Real change in Washington will never happen until we end the era of OBSTRUCTIONIST politicians like YOU!

    November 11, 2009 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  21. I am Newt Limebaugh

    Spare me the term limits. This is the same group of GOP folks who allowed Tom Delay to gerrymander the states so that the GOP would rule forever.

    What total hypocrisy!!

    Besides who would run for the is just a bunch of old farts from the South and a few midwestern states

    November 11, 2009 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  22. James

    I see this as a great way to reduce corruption and personal interests. We have a two term limit on our president so why not apply something similar on congress?

    November 11, 2009 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  23. Drew, FL

    I normally don't agree with Mr. Waterloo, but this is worth doing. In addition, the same needs to be done with the Supreme Court. The danger with having career politicians is that an unnatural sense of entitlement that fosters revolving door style corruption can develop. "Power corrupts. Absolute power, corrupts absolutely." We the People are the deciders. That hasn't been the case in Washington. The problem isn't government. It's influence on government. The American government is supposed to exist for the purpose protecting and promoting the general welfare of American Citizens. Folks on the left and the right have forgotten that. We need to do more than just remember.

    November 11, 2009 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  24. Jonathan Versen

    If we limit terms in congress via an amendment, surely we can also cut the senate's term, say from 6 years to just 4.

    6 years is an awfully long time for someone to serve if the voters later decide he's a dud. Besides, we have congressional elections every 2 years elections anyway, so it wont increase the number of elections we have, only the frequency with which senators have to account for themselves with the voters.

    But if we limit terms, it should be the same for both houses. It sounds like De Mint wants senators to still be able to acquire more clout than house members.

    November 11, 2009 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  25. Steve in San Antonio

    Congressional term limits should've been enacted decades ago!

    A big problem now is that members of Congress have no real sense of what it's like out here in the real world. They get to sit in Washington DC all fat, dumb and happy, all while ignoring their constituents, and knowing that if they stay there long enough, they'll end up with a 6-figure annual pension! Plus, just like other jobs, if you sit there too long, you just end up stagnating.

    We need to generate new blood; and my opinion, 10 years is plenty long enough for someone to spend in Congress!

    November 11, 2009 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
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