Lawmakers Launch Drive for Term Limits : Congress: Movement’s leaders admit they face uphill fight to amend Constitution. Backers are split over how many years the measure should allow.
Conceding that they face an uphill fight, congressional Republicans launched their campaign Wednesday to pass a constitutional amendment limiting the terms of lawmakers in the House and Senate--a proposition that may prove more popular outside Congress than within it.
Limiting congressional terms was a plank in the House GOP’s “contract with America.” But even term-limit proponents cannot agree on precisely what such limits should be. Proposals range from six years to 12 years or more.
But led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) and joined by a few Democrats, term-limit proponents made light of their differences Wednesday, saying that the principle is what matters.
The congressional term limits group is calling itself Team 290, a name derived from the number of votes needed to pass the measure in the House. Amendments to the Constitution must be approved by two-thirds of each house of Congress and ratified by 38 of the 50 state legislatures.
“Team 290 consists of people who advocate different term-limits bills, but agree that final passage must be the primary goal,” said Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.), who favors an eight-year limit for House members.
According to Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), a movement leader who champions a 12-year limit, at least 166 House members have signed on as sponsors of a term-limit bill. But he acknowledged that winning the necessary two-thirds majority in each house is far from certain.
“We’re going to have to work, claw, scratch and everything else to get to 290,” he said.
As the struggle began, term-limit proponents Wednesday did not stint in their rhetorical attacks.
Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) decried “the cancer of careerism,” while Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) added: “Life sentences are for criminals, not for members of Congress.”
One of the few Democrats to participate in a Capitol Hill press conference was Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills). “Politics is about public service, not about a career,” she said.
Gingrich, who has served in the House since 1979, has pledged not to serve more than eight consecutive years as Speaker and favors a 12-year limit for House and Senate members.
“We’re getting into a cycle where incumbents are running to protect themselves, whether it’s Willie Brown in California or Tom Murphy in Georgia, who’s now the longest serving Speaker in the country,” he said.
But many others, including McCollum, would like to limit House terms to six years. Gingrich repeated his opposition to such a stringent limit, especially for leadership posts, saying: “A six-year learning curve is just too short.”
Under current projections, a vote on term limits is expected by the end of March.
Recent polls have consistently shown that 70% or more of respondents favor term limits, and 20 states have already enacted term limits. But whether the reform-minded 104th Congress will approve term limits for itself remains an open question.
Limits under the proposals would not apply retroactively to those already serving in Congress. The clock on term limits would start to tick on those in office only after the amendment is added to the Constitution.