March 2, 2012, 1:48 p.m.
Barely a year in office, a number of freshman lawmakers have an answer to Congress’ poor image: term limits.
The newcomers are among a group – which now includes a Hollywood connection — making a new push for a constitutional amendment to limit congressional terms.
“After serving for a year in Congress, I can report that Washington is systemically broken,” said freshman Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), co-founder of the Fix Congress Now Caucus.
Ribble, who has pledged to limit his House tenure to eight years, said in a recent letter to colleagues: “Continuous campaigning, partisan politics, and careerism have caused members to focus more on getting re-elected than on serving the needs of our constituents and solving the critical issues of our time.”
They’ve got a new ally — onetime game show host Chuck Woolery, who has co-founded Restart Congress to push for term limits.
“We’re trying to get Congress to eliminate their job security. That should be easy,” he said with a laugh in a video on the group’s website.
Although congressional term limits have been hotly debated for years, Philip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits, a nonprofit group that advocates for term limits at all levels of government, said he sees the cause gaining new momentum.
“With term limits polling at all-time highs and the Congress at record lows, pressure is building around the nation for Congress to take action,” he said. He pointed to a vote this week in the Florida Legislature calling on Congress to send a term-limit amendment to states for ratification. California and Florida are among 15 states with term limits for state lawmakers.
Blumel’s group has recruited more than 100 candidates to make their support for term limits an issue in this year’s congressional campaign.
Still, the idea faces a tough climb.
Just last month, the Senate rejected, by a 75-24 vote, a nonbinding measure by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) expressing support for a term-limits amendment.
Arguing against the measure, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “For some members of Congress, two years in office is too long. For some members of Congress, 20 years in office is not long enough. Who should make that decision? The Constitution in its wisdom says the voters.’’
Constitutional amendments must be approved by a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Term limits were a cornerstone the GOP‘s “Contract with America,’’ but the House in 1995 rejected a term-limits amendment.
It split Republicans, largely along generational times. Then-Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) argued that term limits would strip Congress of the experienced legislators it needs to handle the complex issues of the day, declaring: “America needs leaders. It needs statesmen. It needs giants. And you do not get them out of the phone book.”
Still, freshman Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), in a letter to colleagues seeking support for limiting representatives to three terms and senators to two terms, portrayed the issue in fiscal terms: “Career politicians borrow too much, spend too much, and tax too much.”
Ribble has been joined by fellow freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) in proposing a constitutional amendment that would increase a House term from two to four years while capping the service of House members to 12 years and senators to 12 years.
Ribble, hoping to build support for the measure, noted that his proposal would not affect any current member of Congress.
“Since it is unlikely that Congress will limit its own power, the only way to truly reform the institution is to allow this change to occur over time,’’ he wrote colleagues. “As such, this amendment only affects individuals elected to Congress after it is enacted. With my amendment, we will slowly but surely change the culture in Washington and end careerism in Congress.”