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. Please stopr censoring...thx S Callahan

    I guess they smell the rage of their constituents...and should. If this isn't offered now, it surely will be election time. We, American Citizens, love this country and are guilty of apathy but the sleeping giant is awake and aware now.. From my view, I think in the next year or so there is going to be some real revelations shown to the public about just how ugly this has become in Washington. Keep praying.

    November 10, 2009 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  2. Greg, MN

    Amazing that the Democrats who are out to help Americans have not proposed this or President Obama. Too bad that this will never happen.

    November 10, 2009 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  3. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    Naturally, the Republicans propose this when they are in danger of losing even more seats in the House and Senate. And of course, they'll have a grandfather clause that allows geniuses like DeMint and Boehner and McCain to run again and again and again...

    November 10, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  4. Gary from Madison, WI

    I'm not much for agreeing with the GOP, but I agree with this. They should also be limited as to what they or their family members can accept as "gifts".

    November 10, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  5. Miles Anderson

    Term Limits, Now that's a good idea. I think a term shorter than 12 years would be better!

    November 10, 2009 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  6. Lee

    It's about time. They are right...there will never be a change in Washington as long as the powers in charge are allowed to stay there for years and years. Power corrupts, as we have seen over and over and over again. It's the same reason we limit a President to two terms.

    November 10, 2009 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  7. New Father

    It is a shame the Dems and a few Repubs will never allow this to happen. It has about a good of chance as no pay raises for Congress. The elderly don't get a raise but don't worry after a $40 increase to prepare for the stimulus bill. Congress worked its first friday all year to give itself yet abother raise. Pelosi is the great American joke and might be the most radical left wing lone Obama surrounds himself with.

    November 10, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  8. Hmmm....

    It is time for this to happen. He is right. Unless we restrict those who feel they have something personal to protect, we will never get good representation. I am writing my representatives now pushing them to support this.

    November 10, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  9. Tbone85

    Another joke from the Contract on America crew. Term limits are absolutely a requirement–until our party is in the majority. Then it's no more important than a perfunctory vote. Sad, pathetic, and amazingly hypocritical.

    November 10, 2009 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  10. ib

    Bravo; but the demo's will never agree to it. This should happen serving in congress should not be a lifetime job.

    November 10, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  11. Joe M

    The best idea to come out of any politician's mouth....

    November 10, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  12. PDC

    Do it...


    Don't wait.


    November 10, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  13. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    This Asshat has never done anything good for anyone but himself!

    November 10, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  14. Darryl Schmitz

    Yes. There definitely needs to be a limit on the number of times they can service us.

    November 10, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  15. Kathie, Houston, TX

    Yea, like this is really going to fly.

    November 10, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  16. Johnny Monday

    Sen. Jim DeMint is on the right track, I would like to see eight year terms just like the President has. Thank you Sen. DeMint

    November 10, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  17. cgillette369

    amke it one term and no benefits and no lobbyist work.

    they can serve pro bono. NO PAY

    November 10, 2009 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  18. Jenn, Philadelphia

    Robert Byrd has been in the Senate 10 years longer than I've been alive. He has spent the better part of this year at home or in a hospital. How much representation has his state been getting from him? I don't believe the Founding Fathers ever imagined some one running for office over and over again. I believe they thought a person would serve their term and head home and let the next citizen due his duty.

    November 10, 2009 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  19. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, NC

    There's another way to amend the Constitution, a way initiated by the states rather than by Congress

    "The Congress ... on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which ... shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress..."

    This mechanism has never been used, but it's there to guard against the possibility that Congress decides it can ignore the interests of the states–which, come to think of it, is exactly what they're doing.

    November 10, 2009 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  20. Unemployed In Iowa because of Obama

    Finally, someone in Washington with some sence. Its a REpub and not a DEm, because Dems LIE and then act like Osamabama.

    November 10, 2009 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  21. Pat M

    About time, but just like Line Item Veto's, this will not go anywhere because too many in Congress have their pockets lined with money and have become professional politicians

    November 10, 2009 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  22. Mike in CA

    BAD IDEA!!! We passed the same term limits in CA years ago (6 yrs Assembly, 12 yrs Senate) and now instead of "career politicians" we have the most incompetent state legislature in the country. I used to work for an Assemblyman and the joke was they spent their first term learning their job, their second term doing their job, and their third term campaigning for their next job. There is more benefit and less harm in having experienced legislators than imposing term limits just to force a change.

    November 10, 2009 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  23. Glenn, Cary, NC

    These senators are welcome to leave the Senate any time they wish. American voters can limit the terms of their lawmakers at appropriate intervals as determined by the Constitution. The effrontery of such a ragtag group of political hacks to suggest they know better than the American people whom to send to Washington and for how long would be funny if they weren't delusional enough to take themselves seriously.

    November 10, 2009 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  24. Thomas

    Can Sen. Tom Coburn Sen. and Jim DeMint and Sen. leed the way and do this voluntarily ? It would be such an attraction rather then a promotion if they did resign with humility and self reserve after Two terms and not become lobbyists for the NRA or Viagra .

    November 10, 2009 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  25. Chipster

    The Constitution is fine is this area. It's campaign financing that needs to be reformed. We already have term limits. They're called elections and the voters should be able to elect whomever they choose, whether you or I agree with there choice.

    The problem is the huge advantage that incumbents have with financial support. Campaign finance reform is the only way to change this and maintain a democratically elected Congress.

    November 10, 2009 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
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