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. That one guy

    Republican or Democrat we all need to support this.

    November 10, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  2. Bill of Florida

    The motivation behind this recent push is obvious. They want to get rid of Nancy Pelosi and the popular democrats. They haven't been able to do it by way of the vote, so now they are proposing to do it through a yet another law on term limits. I love how these self-righteous people talk about eliminating corruption through term limits, when they are unwilling to limit their own terms. If you truly believe in term limits, why not step down after two terms regardless of what everyone else is doing. I believe some representatives and senators have, in fact, done that. You don't need a law to limit yourself. All you need is a conscience.

    November 10, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  3. Astonished in Tampa

    It's not very often that I whole-heartedly support a Republican-backed measure; though I question if these same people would support this Amendment proposal when they were in power?

    November 10, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  4. David

    Really?!? We're supposed to be talking about healthcare, but we're focusing on this??? Right...

    November 10, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  5. Steve Duffy

    Bravo! As someone who, if forced, would identify as Democrat I have to applaud the effort by Republicans to create such term limits. I couldn't have made a better quote regarding how endless terms end up making career politicians – on both sides of the political aisle, mind you.

    I would love an age to dawn where politicians were more interested in actually serving their constituency than raising funds for their next race, or watering down *any* legislation to be more palpable to an ever centralizing base of people.

    We need strong leaders who are ready to make tough decisions – decisions that are *not* popular with the average Joe.

    November 10, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  6. Idiot_Pelosi

    I believe 12 years for House Reps and 18 years for Senators.

    Nevertheless, I am impressed that an existing politician is endorsing term limits.

    I applaud this effort

    November 10, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  7. Lola

    Term limits...what a noble idea! I wonder how many democrats are going to vote for this? Probably none because democrats are notorious for unlimited spending of tax payers' money.

    November 10, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  8. Frank

    Term limits? Yeah right. There is no way at this point in time that members of either party would ever put limits on themselves and put an end the amount of money and power they have made for themselves.

    November 10, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  9. Bob in Pa

    Amen !!
    But I think both should be a maximum of 8 years.

    November 10, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  10. dobropis

    Term limits are appealing to people fed up with elected officials. Here in California where the state offices have had term limits for quite a while now, term limits have not delivered the proposed benefits. Our state legislature is, if anything, less responsive to voters than it was before term limits. They are not even able to make a deal to get to a decision on critical issues like the state budget and preserving the state's credit rating. Legislators are now too dependent on the party apparatus and donors for their next election and their next career step after term limits. Term limits have not worked in California. So no thanks to federal term limits.

    Many of you out there may not like California, but that doesn't mean you should not learn from our mistakes.

    November 10, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  11. maurice

    Another option is to repeal the 17th amendment and give the states back the power to send state legislators to the senate and will undoubtedly erase the influence of money in senate campaigns. It would also give more of a balance between the states and the federal government. Senators would have to answer to their respective states instead of the interest of corporations and lobbyists.

    November 10, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  12. Michael - Portage, Mi

    We have term limits in Michigan...I even voted for it when the proposal was put before the voters. However, time has shown that what has happened is that we have lost a vast amount of institutional knowledge and there is not enought time under term limits for legislators to learn the ropes to the point that things actually get done in a constructive way. So, while this may sound like a good idea to right-wing extremists/anarchists, in practice it's a bust.

    November 10, 2009 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  13. Tenbobnote

    finally, get those criminals out!

    November 10, 2009 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  14. Tony

    Although I'm as far left as they come, I have to completely agree with them. You get guys who've been in there for over 40 years and they've somehow amassed great wealth. If the President of the United States has a term limit, all elected officials should as well.

    November 10, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  15. Ashly


    God bless the men and women who sign this legislation. This is the ONLY way we can combat corruption among the filthy Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

    November 10, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  16. Bob the Observer

    The incompetence of our elected officials is exceeded only by the incompetence of the American electorate in foolishly re-hiring them at every election.

    We do not need term limits. We already have them. It is called "voting." The only law that needs to be changed is to return the Senate to its constitutional form by restoring the power to elect senators to the state legislatures.

    Again, WE ALREADY HAVE TERM LIMITS. It's called the "vote." Unfortunately, an ignorant American electorate refuses to exercise them.

    November 10, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  17. michael

    Be careful what you wish for these days. Term limits will give more power to industry and those who lobby. Term limits has been a disaster in California. Industry representatives ( a kind name for what they do) are not bound by term limits. With the constant turnover and inexperience of the newly elected, industry will run rough shod over newly arriving legislators. It does not surprise me that this a republican initiative, after all they are the new corporate slaves and easily interchangeable.

    November 10, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  18. SOL

    The only way to end the cycle of corruption in our government is to place a limit on how long these people can feed at the trough.

    November 10, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  19. Samurai Cowboy

    Two terms in the Senate and three terms in the House are too many. If an elected official can't get the job done in one term they need to leave and give someone else a chance.

    November 10, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  20. Independant Vet

    Many of them are others Baggage.

    November 10, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  21. Joseph Dobbs

    This idea is long past. Many in congress seem to be out for No. 1. Themselves. Some have gotten sweetheart deals and gotten low mortgage rate. Nothing happens to them.

    It is time we kick the crooks out. Unfortunately there are honorable people there to. But that is the price we must pay to clean up congress.

    November 10, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  22. Mark Stoddard

    This is something the public should vote on – like 14 years ago it will not pass

    November 10, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  23. tcaudilllg

    It's very easy to be a Republican congressman - you don't have to think. It's quite difficult to be a Democrat congressmen, or even a Democratic party leader. Term limits to will not assist change, but will most certainly hinder it. Simply put, strong leaders are in short supply. Change can take years. When a person is in congress to advance an agenda, they should be allowed to stay for as long as is necessary. (provided the agenda is reasonable).

    November 10, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  24. John Starnes Tampa Florida

    This is a rare occasion when I find myself agreeing with a GOP politician. Next I will learn how many terms HE has been on the public gravy train. I would add NO more lifetime pensions and free "socialized medical care" for any politician.

    November 10, 2009 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  25. Bryan

    What a great idea!

    How about backround checks too? Why is the guy who cleans the floor needs one but the people in charge dont?

    November 10, 2009 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
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