November 10th, 2009
07:59 PM ET
11 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. Winny

    This is something that is long overdue.

    November 10, 2009 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  2. Jim

    I would be for term limits too if my party was at 20% and still falling. What would you have to lose?

    November 10, 2009 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  3. Richard Larson

    This notion should be voted on and given the swift death that it so richly diserves. First, getting super majorities in the House and Senate are problematic, then ratification by a super majority of states who may change their minds any time prior to certification of the 75% ratification vote.

    Lots'a Luck Fools

    November 10, 2009 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  4. LacrosseDad

    a great way to get rid of all those regressive liberal loons.

    November 10, 2009 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  5. aa

    i agree with this guy we need to kick out the old farts

    November 10, 2009 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  6. No More Parties

    One of the few Republican proposals I can get behind for a good while. Though I find the current lack of any comment on this by the GOP leadership telling.

    Democrats: Want something to throw at Steele and his folks? Start making some noise on this amendment!

    November 10, 2009 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  7. Moe, NY

    I agree, but not only Congress....the Senate too...lets be fair about it you Republicans. I would also like right wing lug nuts, to be...if they are ever be only elected in name only, and never be able to serve in any capacity (tongue in cheek)....but, not a bad thought.

    November 10, 2009 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  8. JCL

    I agree with him, but I doubt the congress will pass such amendment; this should be done thru a third party committee “something similar to the 911 committee” although I do not know how constitutional would that be.

    November 10, 2009 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  9. LWC

    Good. I hope it gets where the people can vote on the issue.

    If the President is only limited to two terms due to Congress not being happy over FDR's re-elections, the people should be allowed to vote on if Congress should have a similar rule.

    If it is approved as a Constitutional amendment, this may prevent career politicians like Sen Bond (R) or Speaker Pelosi (D). I think that would greatly help our political system.

    November 10, 2009 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  10. leland

    it's kinda hard tohave lasws changed when the law regarding term limits when the people writing and passing the laws are looking out for their own interest. term limits should apply to judges also. the idea of a supreme court judge sitting on the bench for 30 or 40 years go against the intents of the framers of the constitution. legislators and judges staying in office ad infinitium is a situation that has become institutionalized since the mid 20th century. before that, individuals stepped down in a fairly reasonable time frame. legislators and judges should exercise some resonable judgement in the face of a lace of legislation compelling them to do so.

    November 10, 2009 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  11. Republicans are the American Taliban

    CORRECTION!! Real change will never happen in America until we end the era of REPUBLICANS!!

    November 10, 2009 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  12. Doc in Virginia

    Cool. How about limiting GOP senators and representatives to one term only? Most of them like Coburn dont like being lawamakers gets in the way of their real agendas.

    November 10, 2009 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  13. Dead in Dallas

    Finally...I hope it passes. Election to office should not be never ending or for profit, serve and go back to private sector.

    November 10, 2009 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  14. Baja

    Finally a politician in Washington making some sense! Let's set term limits on the career politicians and get some real turnover and possibly open up a chance for a valid third party to thrive. I just hope enough politicians do the right thing and vote this in instead of worrying only about staying in power!

    November 10, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  15. Matt

    God bless you, Sen. Jim DeMint. Our President is limited to 2 terms, why not the rest of congress?

    November 10, 2009 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  16. Matt

    I ABSOLUTELY support this!

    November 10, 2009 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  17. DJ in the Silicon Forest

    Finally! Some common sense in regards to term limits! We have it for the President, why not for the permanent politicians? They still get their Congressional salary for life, even after they are not in office, so I think that should go as as well...let's do like they do and slip that little gem in at the 11th hour!

    November 10, 2009 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  18. Steven in Charleston

    The answer to the issue of accountability is not term limits, but rather doing away with the practice of gerrymandering, which makes the vast majority of districts virtually a "lock" for one party or the other. If you make EVERY district competitive, then every election season there will be a fair battle of theories and ideas, and the incumbent will have to defend his/her votes and actions. In such a scenario, term limits become unnecessary, and true accountability to the people becomes the standard, rather than the exception.

    November 10, 2009 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  19. Stephen Tate

    This is a terrible idea. Republicans say the Supreme Court should not tinker with the constitution. Why do they now want to change the founding father's now that they are out of office ? Hypocrisy !

    November 10, 2009 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  20. cjl

    BEST IDEA EVER. Once again, Republicans staying true to what real politicians (i.e. the founding fathers) mean't for government. You know a true patriot when they are not as interested in their personal job situation vs. the interest of the country. If they formally propose this, and vote on it, and do not pass it, there will be reprocussions.

    November 10, 2009 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  21. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    WOW! I am a "bleeding heart, left wing commie pinko socialist liberal," and I agree with this REPUBLICAN... Can you imagine that?
    In studying the origins of the United States of America, I found that our Founding Fathers never intended to have career politicians running our country... Now they didn't put that in writing, but those sentiments can be found from numerous sources.

    Let's end endless careers in politics AND make BIG changes in how campaigns are financed. Make it more profitable to get back into the private sector so that there is less back room dealing.

    November 10, 2009 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  22. Cliff

    Oh please. LET IT HAPPEN.
    Get the "lifers" out of D.C. ASAP!
    If it were to happen what would Jesse and Al do to earn money?
    They might have to actually get a job.
    No more Frank, Dodd, et al. I LOVE IT!!!

    November 10, 2009 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  23. J.V.Hodgson

    Sounds good but the real problem is the money game in American politics
    The candidates spent almost 1bn dollars in campaigns and god knows how much the lobbies and vested interests added to that.
    Ban pork barrel amendments attached to bills and force people to vote on the issue and purpose of legislation. = you want 2m dollars for pig smell research put a bill forward and get it voted on house and senate takes afew seconds to read and literally electronic voting wise another 10 secs
    A minimum quorum vote of attendees 20 each House Republicans and Democrats and then 10 each in the senate. simple majority OK affected state senators and representatives banned from voting as proposers or seconders.
    Those two will clean up a lot more combined with term limits and if the president is limited to two terms keep it simple two terms each for Senate and House.

    November 10, 2009 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  24. case

    Term limits, screamed the GOP before 1994, the silence now after 2006 the GOP wants guess what, Term limits again.. at least until they take congress again.

    November 10, 2009 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  25. Marion

    I don't have a problem with term limits, although I do think that the ones proposed here are a bit too short. Perhaps they should be 8 years in the House and 18 years in the Senate. I think that 18 years may be a bit long, but 12 years is too short, and given that Senators are elected for 6 years, there's no middle ground.

    The problem with very short term limits is that there is so much turnover that you can have a breakdown in continuity. You end up with people coming and going so quickly that Congressional leaders may not be much more experienced than freshmen. And, since lobbyists have no such term limits, they can exert greater influence, since they'll be more familiar with the way things work in government than many of the members of Congress.

    November 10, 2009 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
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