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Bush to Urge Setting Limits on Congress Terms

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Bush will use his State of the Union address next month to call for limits on the number of terms that members of Congress may serve, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu said Tuesday.

The call will be part of what Sununu, in a speech to the National Press Club here, predicted would be a “contentious” period between Bush and congressional Democrats over the next year as the President prepares for his expected campaign for reelection in 1992. Bush, who has served in federal office most of his adult life, supported term limitation measures during the fall campaign season, a move that many White House aides predicted would be a prelude to emphasizing the issue on the federal level.

While Bush has often emphasized bipartisanship during the first two years of his tenure, “I suspect that the second half of this term will be operated a little bit differently,” Sununu said, noting that “the years before a presidential election always seem to be a bit more contentious.”

Sununu did not say what kind of term limitation Bush would seek, but Republicans generally have argued for a 12-year limit, the equivalent of two terms in the Senate or six terms in the House.

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It would take a constitutional amendment to change the current system. Democrats, who control both the House and Senate, are expected to resist the proposal. Democrats control the Senate in the incoming Congress by a margin of 56 to 44 and the House by a margin of 267 to 167 with one socialist member.

Bush’s attempts to cooperate with congressional Democrats have often alienated congressional Republicans, particularly in the House, who have felt left out of the bargaining. Efforts to limit congressional terms have been an attractive theme for Republican House members, who see the move as a way of trying to focus public anger against politicians on the Democrats’ long-standing majority in the House.

In another move likely to be rejected by Democrats but welcomed by House Republicans, Sununu said that Bush also would use his State of the Union speech--slated for Jan. 29--to propose again a cut in capital gains taxes. Democratic leaders rejected that idea during this past year’s budget debates, arguing that most of the benefits of the cut would go to the most wealthy taxpayers.

Sununu also defended himself against charges that his frequent bouts of bad temper have hurt White House relations with members of both parties on Capitol Hill. “I merely put myself down as a political counterpuncher,” Sununu said. “Any strong statements on my part are both controlled, deliberate and designed to achieve an effect. There is no random outburst.”

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