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. Alicia

    That's a way to have true bipartisanship! At least for the people!

    November 10, 2009 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  2. Andreea MD

    Hey we are! The best amendaament ever, the biggest change.Why did you need so much time to realize what is going on wtih these Gentelmen on the Congres?

    November 10, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  3. Doug C.

    Another Republican excuse on why they fail to govern. If one believes in term-limits, serve your terms and get out. Lead by example. Otherwise, this is just a distraction from practicing governance. Many of the congressman that promised to limit their terms in the 90's (e.g. George Nethercutt of Wash. State) went back on their promise. If one doesn't like the job their congressman in doing, vote them out.

    November 10, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  4. Ted from Calif.

    What really needs to happen is to term limit the Refuseniks to one term and the South Carolina red neck pseudo christians except for Lindsay Graham to 0 terms. DeMint should be at the top of the list to leave.

    November 10, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  5. John M, NoHo

    The foxes get to vote on their own hen house? Forget (R) vs. (D). It needs to ve voted from the outside.

    November 10, 2009 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  6. victim of republican greed

    It is unconstitutional to take away a citizen's right to choose their representatives.

    November 10, 2009 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  7. victim of republican greed

    DeMint suffers from Dementia.

    November 10, 2009 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  8. Steve

    No one can say the GOP is the party of no ideas anymore, this is the single best idea that has come out of Washington DC in a generation. Too bad it won't pass, but this is EXACTLY what America needs.

    November 10, 2009 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    a better idea would be to limit lobbyist access to legislators. Lobbying is permitted under the constitution, but Corporations did not exist in the days of the Founding Fathers. However, the concept of equal representatiion did. Corporations' interests are disproportionately represented in Washington, and having new legislators every 12 years will give even more advantage to the seasoned lobbyists. thus, if you want to limit terms, you must also limit lobbyits access.

    November 10, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  10. ThinkAgain

    We have term limits – it's called voting!

    A better way to improve the lot of Congresspeople and Senators is to institute real campaign finance reform, so you don't have to be a millionaire – or beholden to special interests – to afford to serve your country.

    November 10, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  11. catmom


    Yes there SHOULD be term limits. What I find is funny is that there are Republicans calling for it. Now, if they would also call for the draft to be reinstated then I might take a second look.

    November 10, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  12. Dave Mishem

    Real change will only happen in Washington when we get rid of the Republicans and the Democrats. Each one is only focused on winning and hopefully tearing down the other in the process. Term limits won't help.

    November 10, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  13. Blue

    He is crazy. We need new poeple all the time that knows nothing about how Washington works. Let's get rid of him. His fifteen minutes are really up.

    November 10, 2009 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  14. AJ

    If Americans don't like the representation they are getting from their elected officials, they have the option of making that change at the ballot box. Why is it that the "conservatives" keep trying to pass Constitutional amendmends whenever they don't like something or someone?

    November 10, 2009 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  15. D-burg boy

    The short term limits, as proposed, would only give more influence to the lobbyists who would benefit from their continuity of tenure as they "advise" the relatively inexperienced representatives. I agree however that we need to have "term limits", but they need to be structured differently. Just as there are minimum age requirements for members of Congress, there should also be maximum age limits. I would suggest 70 years of age as the maximum. 70 and out you go. As one who is aging, there is no way anyone can tell me that a 90 year old has the same mental ability and energy level as a younger representative. That way the American people could benefit from the experience gained by their representatives, but also benefit from the rejuvenation that younger representatives would bring.

    November 10, 2009 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  16. Ted from Calif.

    DeMint is right on track. All Refuseniks (the party of Corruption) should be limited to one term if they keep their zippers up.

    November 10, 2009 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Sounds like a great idea. In addition we should reform how running for office is financed and what are the perks and benefits of being in office as well. Congress critters should get average salaries of USA not their 6 figures they are getting right now and their other benefits should reflect average benefits as well.

    November 10, 2009 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  18. Pragmatic

    What a hoot! If you believe republicans want "term limits" – then I have a bridge to sell you on my ocean front property in Arizona! There are term limits: they are called "elections"

    November 10, 2009 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  19. Ryan of Virginia

    I see absolutely no problem with this. Anyone who sees themselves as a moderate non-wing nut should be for an amendment which discourages career-politicians.

    I'd expect the Left to be against a proposal that would give new light to Republicans but we'll see how it turns out.

    November 10, 2009 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  20. floridian

    Hooray! But I would suggest that a member of the House be allowed to serve eight (8) years instead of the six (6) suggested in the proposal. For one, it would allow a political party that just won a presidential election the opportunity to have new Congressmen around for a two-term President, if the people so desire. Secondly, eight years would severely limit those who serve in the House from running for most of the Senate seats that may be coming vacant, thus providing a "second term limit" that would preclude someone serving for twenty (20) consecutive years. Another suggestion, to be added, is that an individual cannot run for another federal office while holding another such office. If you want to be President or Veep then you would have to resign your seat in Congress and bite the bullet if you lost. Likewise, if you want to run for Senator while serving as a member of the House, ditto. We do not need some "fall back security" if one is rejected by the people for the higher office.

    November 10, 2009 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  21. Bob

    It's sad to think that soon liberals and bloggers alike will condemn the Republicans for only wanting to "get rid of their opponents in Washington."

    And they'll say this while consciously ignoring the line: "The new proposal echoes the Citizen Legislature Act...proposed by Republicans...[and which] won a majority in the Republican-controlled House in 1995."


    November 10, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  22. that1guy

    Of course. Figures that a head case like DeMint would be the spokespuppet for this old chestnut at this time. Jimmy already feels a cold wind blowing at his back as the Repubs face a long, long exile, and he'll be one of the first out the door.

    Guess they figure now their best shot at regaining power by 2020 or so is t limit Democratic seniority. Why didn't we hear anything about this from SC when Strom Thurmond was still kicking?

    November 10, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  23. victim of republican greed

    Honduras Jim is as un American as Fox media.

    November 10, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    Here's a better idea: if you don't like who is in office, vote them out. That's what democracy is, the power of the vote, not some knuckle-headed politicians trying to put term limits on representatives.

    November 10, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  25. FL

    There should be a way for the American people to vote directly on this issue. I'm guessing it would pass easily.

    November 10, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
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