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. DonBeal

    Term limits is just a way for someone else, not in my voting district, to vote for my representative. If I am perfectly satisfied with the person who represents me in Congress, why should I not have the right to vote for that representative?

    November 10, 2009 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  2. Brian in California

    I am a democrat and I wholeheartedly support this amendment. I've been talking about this for some time now. My personal idea was to serve 2 terms then not be allowed to run again for another 2 terms. Basically letting some new blood in there and do some good. I can't believe this was a republican idea seeing how there are some REALLY old republicans in there but I guess there are on both sides.

    So yeah, I'm all for this change. People get in there as representatives and just loose touch after years and years serving and begin to think they know what is best for everyone.

    November 10, 2009 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  3. Matt

    Easily the most intelligent thing I've heard from Congress in a long time. There was a great article in Newsweek recently that points out why the Supreme Court is so effective at effecting change in the country: no need to run for election or reelection. Imagine how powerful and effective a congressman or senator would be if they didn't feel the need to pander to their base or raise funds for the next election.

    November 10, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  4. Tom Mitchell

    This is the best idea I have heard out of Washington in many many years. I fully support this idea.

    November 10, 2009 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  5. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    We already have term limits, they are called elections.

    November 10, 2009 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  6. normajean

    If this effort was proposed by anyone but a Republican, I would find it interesting to know more about the idea,reasoning ,etc. But , in as much as it is a Republican proposal I would dismiss the idea out of hand for obvious reasons.The Repubs are grasping at anything they can,including straws, to attempt a restructuring of their place in the political scene, They thought they were being clever with their "Party of no" but I believe , the title has turned on them and I bet they will find this out to their sorrow during the next election.

    November 10, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  7. Dan

    The house and senate already have term limits – it's called elections. The real issue here is gerrymandering. Otherwise, the people get their vote. Special interests and big money will always be a factor with lawmakers new and old.

    November 10, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  8. John H.

    Senator DeMint has my support. The lifetime permanent politicians in Washington need to go. We want real change.

    November 10, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  9. Terry - Indiana

    If you are really interested in "Term Limits", take time to review the history of term limits in California. Yes, term limits were passed by the voters, but the snakes who refer to themselves as State Representatives and Senators, add a referendum every few years, trying to overturn the Term Limit. If you think for a minute that a group of Republicans, or Democrats, or Independents really want term limits, you need to stop and smell the roses. Everyone of the folks talking-up this concept have received money from Healthcare Insurance and Pharmaceutical Companies. If it passes, all of the members of the House and Senate will just become Lobbyists. Term Limits should mean just that – LEAVE WASHINGTON FOR GOOD!

    November 10, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  10. richard in montana

    What a joke! How about addressing the real problem like "K" Street lobbyists? Like real campagin finance reform-no corporate donations and that includes unions too? How about really working for the good paycheck and benefits that they are getting paid for? How about limiting how many days paid vacation they get?

    November 10, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  11. NC Jeff

    Sounds like a plan. You have my vote but I think it should be even, Senate and House 12 years maximum. While we're at it, lets cut the retirement salary and health care for life crap. It's really insulting.

    November 10, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  12. Minnesotan

    OMG! The Republicans have come up with a good idea! It's the Apocalypse! They NEVER have good ideas!

    November 10, 2009 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  13. Lee Bowman

    I am totally opposed to term limits, even the ones that currently exist. I want the right, with my vote, to limit a representative's term and to reward those doing a good job with another one. Real power rests with the people and their votes. Here in California term limits have been a disaster. No one is in the legislature long enough to make a lasting mark, and by the time they really learn the ropes and can be effective, they're term-limited out. Our legislature is a circus. It's silly and ridiculous. And politicians end up playing musical chairs. Let's face it. Had we not had term limits for Presidents (one maybe 3 terms) both Reagan and Clinton would have been easily re-elected. I know the reasoning for term limits. I just disagree with it.

    November 10, 2009 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  14. DonBeal

    More specifically, I am from Maine and I am represented by two Republicans in the Senate and a Democrat in the House of Representatives. I believe all three of them to be fine legislators, intelligent and fair. Each of them represents the state of Maine very well. Why should someone from South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas, or Texas take away my right as a citizen of Maine to vote for the candidate from Maine whom I think would best represent my state?

    November 10, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  15. Terry - Indiana

    Should term limits come to pass – all monies raised for future campaigns should be turned over to the U.S. Treasury to cover the expense of cleaning up the mess these folks will leave. The "Founding Fathers" must be laughing as they watch the circus we call the U.S. House and Senate. Do not let these people leave Washington with millions of money given to them by lobbyists, PAC's, Healthcare Insurance, and Pharmaceutical Companies.

    November 10, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  16. WAHEID

    Sounds good at first glance, but remember that members of Congress are elected and the proposed amendment not only would limit a politican from running for office, but it would also limit my ability to vote for that person.

    The problem with Congress is not the length of tenure, it is money and the power that money brings. Political campaigns are expensive, so politicans spend an inordinate amount of time raising money. Despite claims to the contrary, only a fool would believe that contributors to political campaigns are better represented than the voters.

    If the Congressman is serious about reforming Congress, he would be advised to press for legislation that would limit the amount of money flowing into Congress. It is the money flowing into the political process that has made the capitol the ethical cesspool that it has become.

    November 10, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  17. WAHEID

    Second para should have read: Despite claims to the contrary, only a foool would believe that contributors do not have better representation than voters.

    November 10, 2009 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  18. JS

    As much as I tend to dislike some of the long-serving members of congress, the effect of term limits in state legislatures has been to increase reliance on lobbyists and staff rather than decrease it. A new member of congress is much more likely to turn to a seasoned lobbyist or staff member for advice when they have less of their own legislative experience. While a popular position amongst conservatives, it's really a bad idea for the country.

    November 10, 2009 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  19. billy123

    We have heard this before with the Contract with America. Then as soon as the GOP was the Majority Party we never heard another word about it. How stupid does the GOP think the America public?

    They are really trying to replay 1994 all over again. Please GOP get some new thoughts OK.

    November 10, 2009 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  20. Bill

    This is an absolutely stupid idea! Particularly for the house. You cannot do anything in only six years in the house and it takes time to be able to learn processes and gain momentum for anything. With this in place, even less would get done! If people like the job their representatives or senators are doing, let them stay in office. If they don't like what they are doing, that is what the ballot box is for! If these people are truly no longer listening to their constituents, they will be voted out. In the meantime, you have to let people learn the system and have a chance to advocate their policies.

    November 10, 2009 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  21. Ralph

    At last !!!!!
    Can it be ?
    A proposed law in Washington that makes sense !

    And make them buy their own health insurance....

    November 10, 2009 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  22. Gary L. Cripe

    This is a long time coming and an excellent idea. I pray this actually gets passed and enacted.

    November 10, 2009 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  23. chris

    Suggested only when in the minority party in an effort to oust some Dems... way to go GOP... why not come up with ideas to help this country rather than constant attacking/whining? Yes this could help... but it would have been nice to see efforts to directly impact hardships today.

    November 10, 2009 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  24. Stephen

    Ironically, the republicans made this same manuever the last time there was a democrat president. Contract with America. Then, of course, when their terms came to a close, they almost all forgot about that term limits thingie.

    November 10, 2009 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  25. Ndubueze Chuku

    Senator Jim DeMint, you are a hypocrite. Instead of you and your moron friends concentrating on the issues of the day that will help the average American, you are there talking about 'Term Limits in the congress'. What have you achieved in the congress for the years you have been there? Come to think of it, you have been in Washington since 1998. 6 years as a representative and 4 years as a senator. By the time you are done with let us say 2 terms as a senator, that will be 18 years in Washington. Senator Jim DeMint just focus and do what the people of South Carolina sent you to do and stop beating around the bush.

    November 10, 2009 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
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