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. gary

    this is probably a good idea because we have too many career politicians in the house and senate. I think 12 years for both the senate and the house would be a great idea.

    November 10, 2009 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  2. Greg Dayton

    What if the Census Bureau redraws all the voting districts to be equal and no longer Gerrymandered? Maybe a challenger might not need to be a millionaire to beat an incumbent. The people might have a chance to elect somebody not beholden to special interests...

    November 10, 2009 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  3. David in San Diego

    Nothing but the usual ideological wedge issue. Having more turnover would just mean more candidates needing to suck up to campaign contributors to win their first election. It would accomplish nothing. Term limits play a big role in the structural ineffectiveness of the California Legislature.

    November 10, 2009 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  4. Jake

    They should make it an even 12 for both- 2 terms for Senators & 6 terms for House Members..

    November 10, 2009 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  5. barbara

    Why can't this be put on the ballot? Unfortunately, the people in Congress will never vote themselves out of job security. This should have been done years ago. People in Congress should not have benefits for life either. They should live like every other American.

    November 10, 2009 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  6. Kris

    Hear-hear! Methinks the "DC coterie", so to speak, has had way too many years establishing 'kingdoms", also so to speak. Might be time to get some more "new blood" into the Senate, especially, and really start to look at the problems we have within our own country. DC has certainly been ignoring it's voters for waaaay too long now. I'm still praying for our new, young president. He wants some good change in this country and I think we should give him a chance. DC has been entrenched in its old ways for too long. Oh yeah...I'm a 63 year-old woman who is still hoping that we can come back together as a country and work on this stuff together. Still a pollyanna...sigh...

    November 10, 2009 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  7. Manuel TX

    I totally agree with this.

    Term limits would drastically change the dynamic in Washington. We should not have career politicians.


    November 10, 2009 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  8. Gary

    He must think we the people are really stupid. Term limits, proposed by a republican. This has to be a scam to get votes. No way will these vile corrupt people, ever give up there power. The only way things will change is when all of america's working class rise up and take there power away from them. I'am probably wasting my time here because cnn will probably not post my comment, because they know they have a lot of power, to broadcast their views. Are you listening Wolf.

    November 10, 2009 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  9. Jeff in Atlanta

    Nice thought but unless there is massive public pressure it will never happen.

    Maybe the Republicans can set an example by all stepping down voluntarily when they reach these benchmarks.

    It would show the country they stand on principle but I am sure that few will. The Republicans for the most past are just as hypocritical and play politics just like the sad Democrat party.

    November 10, 2009 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  10. Jim

    America would be better off if conservative Senators like DeMint didn't seek political office ever.

    November 10, 2009 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  11. D GARCIA

    What a great idea. This will prevent the political parties from running loser candidates against the incumbents to keep career politicians in office.

    Another advantage will be to reduce the constant fund raising by career politicians to stay in office.

    Maybe we can get back to electing the best person to the office rather than the lessor of two evils.

    We should limit each body to two terms as we do the president. I love it!

    November 10, 2009 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  12. Benjamin

    . The american public votes senators in office and we kick them out if we don't like what they are doing. We don't need term limits for congressional office. Why the heck would republicans take away the people's right to elect who they want? what is wrong with these people? God forbid if we want to limit gun control though, because you know that would actually make sense. talk about being out of touch with the "real american people".

    November 10, 2009 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  13. bobster

    great idea! just as our fore fathers envisioned. but dont make it an even number, make it an odd number, 11 year term!

    November 10, 2009 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  14. Black Viper

    I gree send all of them home No incumbent should ever run again.
    Create more political parties to give more choice to the voters.

    November 10, 2009 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  15. Bob

    Term limits are an afront to true democracy. Term limits always benefit the Republicans as they have money to run elections. Term limits have taken its toll here in Ohio. One we lose great leglislators due to this stupid. The republicans controlled both houses as they kept playing musical chairs until Obama ran, and we finally have the state senate and something is finally getting done. You cannot get things done with mandated term limits. Again, term limits are the opposite of democracy and always help big business and not the average little guy on the street.

    November 10, 2009 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  16. Kevin from Maryland

    If any congressperson (House or Senate), regardless of party were truly serious about congressional term limits, why wont they pool together their resources to get the states to call for a Constitutional Convention. It is disturbing that the media and Congress want to keep telling US that only THEY can amend the Constitution. Bring it to the states for support, if Congress will not act on their own, enough states calling for a convention (and removing Congress from the reigns of deciding how the Constitution is amended) will. Congress has done it before to keep the rabble rousing states from writing amendments, and with enough of a threat they will do it again...

    November 10, 2009 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  17. Elliot

    This is an excellent idea, but it doesn't go far enough. Nobody should be able to make absurd promises they can't keep just to get re-elected

    November 10, 2009 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  18. JP

    My god finally a great idea from Washington.

    November 10, 2009 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  19. e.c.coleman

    This is the Best idea for getting rid of the abused REALITY OF Representative or Senate Member being there far beyong his
    time and create a better mix of public servants.

    In addition, THE FACT that members' huge retirement package is paid after serving just one term a bunch of Nonsense. This golden group of benefits should be changed also, and the whole of Congress MUST HAVE THE SAME HEALTH INSURANCE AS COMMON CITIZENS. They should no longer receive any Retirement Benefits other than a match of what they put into a Fund while

    There is more graft and corruption among the Members who have served for many, many years. When is Mr. Byrd going to retire?
    When is he ever in attendance? He should resign.

    The longest serving office Members engage in corruption and favors and think nothing of it. They believe it is their 'right' to
    break the law, refuse to pay the IRS, and lie on their Tax Returns,
    just like Charlie Wrangle. This man should be kicked right out of the House, because he did not pay his taxes and lied about it. In addition, he's been arrogant about his lies and thinks that he is
    above the law.

    November 10, 2009 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  20. Ben

    About time...........! Ole people do not need to be seating down making decisions after 65. It's the 21st century and most of them thinks it's the 1980's all over again. No change will ever come about with wingnuts making decisions for the country.

    TIME LIMITS FOR CONGRESS AND SENATORS! These people have money and do not understand how the average american has to live from paycheck to paycheck..... TIME LIMITS PLEASE!

    November 10, 2009 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  21. Chad

    Definitely a good idea.

    November 10, 2009 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  22. Kevin

    Fantastic!!!!! Now this would be some REAL CHANGE to our political system. Our founding fathers never intended for our leaders to become career politicians. I have felt for a long time that representatives and senators that have held their seats for decades have become entrenched and no longer have the interest of their constituents in mind. Money has the power to corrupt absolutely and the more time these people spend in Washington, the accustomed they become to the power and money and the more incentive they have to stay. At this point, their primary concern becomes getting re-elected and not governing the country to do what's best for the majority of people.

    Yes I realize that we have free and open elections, and it is indeed the constituents that keep voting these people into office. However, as we've seen in recent years, spending on campaigns has become astronomical. These days it takes a ridiculous amount of money for staff and advertising to win an election. In essence, winning an election is BIG BUSINESS. Thus, the more entrenched a congressman becomes, the more money he/she has coming into the coffers, and the more difficult the incumbent becomes to beat. So, yes the people do cast the ballots, but when the incumbent can outspend the opponent with advertising, it becomes nearly impossible to get them out of office.

    Term limits will even the field and return us to a congress filled with civilians that truly represent their constituents. This will shift the focus away from getting re-elected and back to the business of doing what's right for the people.

    C'mon congress....if you really want to make a change, limit yourselves and put the people back in power.

    November 10, 2009 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  23. termlimitsyes

    Amen. It will never happen though because those same crook's, thief's would have to pass it . They will not vote to cut off there gravy train. There addicted to the gravy.AKA the taxpayer dime.

    November 10, 2009 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  24. David Reke

    For being Republicans this doesn't seem very conservative. Such a decision should be left up to the states.

    November 10, 2009 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  25. Pat

    Why does this only come up when Republicans are the minority?

    November 10, 2009 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
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