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. Palermo

    For once, I agree with the Republicans. I would even go further and limit terms in office to only two for both houses. Our Congress long ago became an elitist organization fueled by lobby and special interest money. The longer members remain in office, the more isolated from the people and entrenched in their positions. We need term limits and campaign finance reform desperately. Congress needs to return to its original purpose as a representative of the people.

    November 10, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  2. Philip

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

    November 10, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  3. steph

    Funny how the Republicans always propose term limits when there is a Democrat majority

    November 10, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  4. Jo

    This is exactly the only way real change will EVER come to Washington. When Lawmakers stop working to get re-elected and stop worrying about their campaign treasury, they can focus on their constituents. Kudos to senator DeMint and any other congressman who supports this. Somehow I doubt Pelosi and Reid will even allow it to be discussed.

    November 10, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  5. andrew s. rostolder hillsdale nj

    it is about time. you go jim. maybe if there are term limits, it will be about the people not about getting re-elected....

    November 10, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  6. Ray Rey

    Rather than term limits, we should focus on the money driving the elections and the mapping / gerymandering of the electoral districts.

    The vote, or will, of the people should be the ultimate term limit. If the people want someone in longer than 2 terms, they should be able to keep that person in office. Allowing term limits would be displacing the ultimate will of the people with the political rumblings / landscape of the time such legislation is passed - and future generations will be stuck with it. Why legislate out the flexibility for the people?

    Focus on the REAL problem.

    The corruption comes into play with gerrymandering and the sourcing of money funding the campaigns.

    November 10, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  7. There is a God - TERM LIMITS WILL SAVE US

    Term Limits is the only thing that will save this country and give it back to the people. If the Congress will not vite it, each state needs to get it on their ballots and do this state by state

    November 10, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  8. dragon8me

    I can't believe I'm actually agreeing with republicans but this is what I've been saying for quite some time. It would help get rid of some of the corruption. Do it, please. Maybe they think it will help their chances of geting elected. Probably not.

    November 10, 2009 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  9. terry,va

    Excellent idea!!! We need to get the senile fools out of office like Byrd of WV, Reid, and Dodd. People like Rangel in the House also needs to go.

    November 10, 2009 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  10. Bugl3t

    Amazing how these guys do a 180 on the issue of term limits when they are in the minority, huh? This must be the GOP's latest plan to reverse the trend of losing seats in Congress.

    Well, they have to do something... they certainly haven't shown America any solutions or ne ideas. But like they say, it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

    November 10, 2009 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  11. Fitz in Texas

    TERM! Something this country should have had years ago.

    November 10, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  12. Johnny DC

    This should DEFINITELY be passed. There are dinosaurs on both sides of the aisle that need to vacate their royal seats ASAP.

    This absolutely must be considered this time around.

    November 10, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  13. west

    I am in DeMint's constituency. This C-Street, Waterloo, bigoted tool has got to go, and the sooner the better. He has done nothing but set his own state back 50 years.

    November 10, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  14. Chuck

    Beware!!!!! Do not trust anything this racist and bigoted Senator "NO" DeMint from SOUTH CAROLINA proposes. South Carolina voters, again, made the mistake of electing someone who shouldn't be there in the first place. It's time for South Carolina to clean house.....starting with the Governor, and, Senator "NO" DeMint

    November 10, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  15. D

    I had similar thoughts years ago as an undergrad political science student (now I'm a prof). But if one follows Congress at all, it becomes clear that the longer someone serves the more expertise she/he builds up in certain issue areas. Such individuals then become far more capable of shaping and shepherding legislation through the rather convoluted process of getting a bill into law. Term limits essentially means a large and constantly changing pool of people with little experience in government.
    Say what you will about politicians but they reflect the best and worst in us as a people.

    November 10, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  16. MCD, SF, CA

    We have term limits in California and our legislature is a complete mess!! I say stick with the Vote as a way of getting rid of ineffective reps. With term limits we would not of had all the contributions that Ted Kennedy made. We would certainly have missed his ability to cross party lines.

    All methods will have pros & cons... I think our current method is the best.

    November 10, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  17. Ellie

    Mr. DeMint, I'm sorry but 12 years is TOO DAM LONG.

    Limit should be 8 YEARS and should apply to EVERY politician whether you are a Republican or Democrat just like it is for the President!!

    That's the problem, we've go OLD DINOSAURS that need to hit the road and let new, younger minds step in. Minds that are focused on the future NOT clued to the past.

    November 10, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  18. Celobrity

    I'm not sure that term limits wouldn't have it's downside. There's something to be said for experience. It's also kind of hard to find good, qualified people as it is, and term limits could make it even harder. Seems that what really ought to come first is campaign finance reform. If all elections were publicly funded, then all of our elected officials could spend a lot less time campaigning and a lot more time governing. Special interests would be neither. And people who don't have millions of dollars to spend on a campaign could still run for office with equal air time and equal opportunity to debate the issues. May the best qualified candidate win.

    November 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  19. Russ H

    My god, we finally have a person in the government with some brains. If I was in his area I would vote for him. We have to many idiots in our government that should not be there. Pelosi and Reid. Of course you guys are democrates so I do not believe you will not post it, but I have gone to other areas where they will. I am tired of CNN and shortly I will be out of your democratic system because I believe you are just as bad as our government

    November 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  20. Karen

    We desperately need term limits – too many people just vote for a name they recognize! No one needs 85 – 90 year old people trying to govern them!!

    November 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  21. Chuck

    And, oh yes, South Caroline voters who want to clean house.....let us not forget the infamous Joe Wilson, the LIAR.

    November 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  22. Bill

    Finally, some honesty!

    November 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  23. the rector

    Well this is the best idea i've heard of in years. Too bad the guys who will loose their lifetime jobs have to approve it. If you seriously want term limits, put it on the ballot, it's that simple. If the average citizen had the opportunity to kick these paracites out on their keisters it would happen in a heartbeat.

    November 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  24. Collin

    Purely symbolic. This proposal is brought before Congress every single term just for a few people to get on the record for supporting it, but it never gets out of committee because seriously, why would congressmen vote to shorten their own jobs?

    However, to the advocates of term limits, respond to these possibilities you've probably never even considered if term limits were to be enacted:

    1. What would be the incentive for anybody to run against an incumbent who will eventually be term limited when they can just wait a few years to run for an open seat in which neither guy has the advantage? The result: THERE WOULD ONLY BE COMPETITIVE ELECTIONS IN THE YEARS WHEN ALL THE SEATS ARE OPEN!!!!! In other words, don't expect to see any other candidate on a ballot until the incumbent is term limited.

    2. What incentive do legislators who will be term limited have to actually legislate? Under term limits, even less would get done than already gets done. And what would those outgoing incumbents probably be doing in the background?..........YOU GUESSED IT! RUN FOR ANOTHER OFFICE!!!! It would do nothing about career politicians, just shuffle them between different government positions at different levels of government. They'd probably win too because people always cite "experience" as one of the main traits they look for in candidates.

    In conclusion, we already have term limits in this country! The voters can end the term of their member of Congress anytime they want every two years and their Senator every 6 years. But as always seems to be the thought process in American politics, "Congress is a bunch of bums, but NOT MY GUY!"

    November 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  25. GIBBS

    amen...adopt this proposal...put it to a vote of the american public...i know it would pass!!!!

    November 10, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
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