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. Joe

    I think this is a fantastic idea. FYI – I am a Democrat.

    November 10, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  2. IWMPB

    This is one of Reagan's three "crown jewels" with the line item veto and balanced budget amendment being the other two. Reagan said fiscally responsibility could never come to Washington without them. I hope this gains traction, because like most people I'm sick and tired of the entrenched ruling elite. This is supposed to be a government for the people and by the people. Something it currently failing to be.

    November 10, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  3. vette gal

    Good for him. I have been saying this for the past 8 years. Every other political office has term limits and so should they. Hate to admit I agree with the republicans, but they have finally come up with something that should have been done a long time ago. These politicians would not be so worried about re-election and would actually do something right for the country as a whole.

    November 10, 2009 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  4. floridian

    I also meant to add that the resignation requirement would preclude us having numerous members of Congress not fulfilling their jobs 'cause they are permanently campaigning for up to two (2) years, as we have seen recently.

    November 10, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  5. Laura

    We have term limits – they're called elections.

    November 10, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  6. Ken

    Just when there's a legitimate chance of overhauling healthcare and insurance companies death grip on our political system, the Republicans are sending out this hail-Mary strategy to change the focus of the debate. This is simply a wedge strategy and nothing else. Go back and look at the historical evidence. When the Republicans are losing influence, they dredge this issue up and anyone against it is labeled as "old establishment" minded and is just protecting themselves. If someone is a great and effective political leader, why on Earth would the public want to kick them out? This is like saying the best doctors and nurses should be fired after 12 or 6 years as they have learned to manipulate the medical system to their advantage. This is a STUPID proposal by STUPID scheming politicians trying to change our (the public's) focus. Not again, sheesh~!

    November 10, 2009 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  7. cliff

    Vast majority of Americans prefer term limits for all elected officials. Two terms should be the limit

    November 10, 2009 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  8. Sarah, Northern Colorado

    That's the first good idea I've heard out of a Republican in a very long time. I'd support it!

    November 10, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  9. lesli Finkler

    term limits are good but we could do away with congress altogether. we dont need them anymore. the american ppl. can speak for themselves.

    November 10, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  10. Karen

    Please. We have term limits. They're called elections.

    November 10, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  11. marcus (seattle)

    wow... a republican proposal i agree with ?? it'll be interesting to see how many politicians from each party he gets to sign on to this bill.. i can't see a single reason for any congressman to oppose this bill.. if it makes sense to limit the president's terms, it makes sense to limit congressional terms..

    November 10, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  12. Joshua College Station Texas

    HALLELUJAH!! Amen and amen!

    They have seen the light. I never thought I would see this day come.

    I never thought I would see the day where I would embrace wholeheartedly, 100% anything that would come out of the mouth of Republicans currently in office. More power to you brethren and sisters who seek to pass this legislation.

    Term limits have more power to change the dynamic in Washington than anything else. No more career politicians would mean that prospective candidates had to run on the merits of their campaign pledges and ideas and that the incentive to serve would be to serve well and secure a place in history, rather than to stay in office and live off the "fat of the land" with all the perks from sponsors and lobbyists. It would actually raise the stature of offices to keep terms short. Just think, if it works so successfully for the presidency, why can't it work for Congresspeople?

    November 10, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  13. Philip

    I'm glad to see the Republicans can occasionally suggest something I agree with. I've often wish politicians focused more on their jobs...

    November 10, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  14. WAW

    We hear team limits every time the Republicans are out of the White House and not in control of Congress. Why didn't you do something when you were in the driver's seat.

    November 10, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  15. A. Smith

    Any and all bills and laws proposed by Republican members MUST be considered with a great deal of pessimism and scrutiny.

    Are the Republican lawmakers fearful of a Democratic dynasty which would repair the decades of damages the Republican lawmakers have done to the American Economy, American infra-structure, American Values and America's Image around the world?

    Big Oil and Big Pharma Corporations apparently are frightened by the recent round of laws and pending bills which work to reel in their outrageous grip and control of America's economic spending.

    The American Public should be asking, who really owns South Carolina's Republican Senator Jim DeMint.

    His puppet master is pulling the strings on this proposed law.

    A. Smith

    November 10, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Well, at the risk of looking reflexive, if it's something a majority of Republicans want, I am automatically against it.

    Given Republicans' penchant for seeing to it that no good deed that benefits the middle class and the poor goes unpunished, I can't help but feel that Republican-style term limits are to be regarded with suspicion.

    Of course, they have brought that suspicion onto themselves.

    November 10, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  17. mjm

    I have a better idea. they have to serve one full term and get elected for a second term BEFORE running for president.

    Dems will never go for term limits...they would never be able to get real jobs.

    November 10, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  18. Jim

    What a load of nonsense.
    It makes absolutely no difference whether they have been elected to their first or 10th term, the highest order of business for a politician is to get re-elected.
    So, what happens, in come the lobbyists with money for campaigns.

    End of story – you have just got a new whore not a new statesman.

    November 10, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  19. Adam

    I agree with overall sentiment of term limits, but I think an even better solution would be to pass an amendment that forces states to draw up Congressional districts so that they are as competitive as possible. A non-partisan panel could get this done and I won't talk about the exact logistics of how this might worth, but ultimately what would happen is that we would get more moderates in the House. This would create a situation in which bipartisanship would be much more possible–after all there really shouldn't be much of a difference between a moderate democrat and a moderate Republican. Both parties would compromise more and much of the gridlock that we see in a Washington, which is a product of a political atmosphere in which compromise is not possible would disappear.

    Obviously this wouldn't effect the Senate but a term limit Amendment for the Senate could coincide with the amendment proposed above.

    November 10, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  20. S M R

    More like BAN the Republicans from public office because they are in favor of Trickle-Down Economics, De-regulation and War-Profiteering

    November 10, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  21. Ben

    A smokescreen to score populist points. Of course, it won't go anywhere, but then, it wasn't meant to.

    November 10, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  22. Cary in NC

    AMEN to that. Just imagine all the crapola we could've prevented if some of these cats had been long gone by now.

    November 10, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  23. N Lindgren

    I agree as well as many of the people I know that term limits would benefit our system and get rid of the career politcians who only interest seems to be being re-elected. This would counter the lobbying groups and big money being paid in slush funds for special interest groups. It will never happen because congress will not give up their cash flow and benefits. We have the best congress money can buy, just ask the unions, lawyers , Chamber of Commerce and lobbyists. Where else can a congressman or federal offical cheat on his taxes and nothing happens. We slam a working person who is trying raise a family and pays his bills with high fines or jail if they are caught cheating. We need term limits and honest representation.l.

    November 10, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  24. Pruitt Holcombe

    Sounds like a good idea to me. I can't see anything wrong with limiting terms for politicians. It forces new blood into the system.

    November 10, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  25. CAW in MD

    I'm definitely in favor of term-limiting DeMint, Coburn, Brownback, Hutchinson, and anybody else who thinks that it is the lack of term limits that prevent Congress from doing their job. There are a lot of reasons why Congress is dysfunctional, but term limits doesn't even make the top 50 of those reasons. This idea had no chance in 1994, and it has no chance now of becoming a Constitutional amendment. So why bother?

    November 10, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
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