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Term Limits Die In The House

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 12) -- The House took up the issue of term limits today, but not even the idea's supporters were surprised when members voted against imposing a cap on how long they may serve in Congress.

The vote was 217-211, 69 votes short of the two-thirds needed to limit lawmakers' tenure.

Defeated two years ago, a constitutional amendment for term limits became the first House business of the new Congress and the arguments sounded familiar on the House floor. It gained even fewer votes this time around.


"It is vital that if Congress is going to serve the American people well its members not become stale and immune to the will of the people," Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) said before the vote.

But Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) suggested it would mean fewer choices. "This essentially seeks to alter democracy to reduce the choices of the voters," Frank said.

Term limits advocates knew their chances were bleak.

"This isn't going to pass this year," said Paul Jacob, executive director of U.S. Term Limits. "It may not pass in the next Congress."

The House Judiciary Committee, over the objections of its chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), a passionate term limits opponent, approved holding members of the House and Senate to 12 years, but there was no recommendation for full House passage.

Still, Speaker Newt Gingrich got to keep a promise made two years ago. "So this issue's not dead," Gingrich said then. "It's coming back."

In fact, U.S. Term Limits charges Gingrich and others are playing games with the issue, once a top item in the GOP Contract With America.


Said Jacob: "Newt Gingrich has refused to open up a dialogue with term limits activists. I think that demonstrates the lack of commitment on the part of the speaker and on many long-term incumbents in Congress."

But Jacob said there will be increasing pressure on Congress from the states. Twenty of them -- California is the largest -- have adopted limits for their own state lawmakers.

And in nine states -- Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Arkansas, Missouri and Maine -- members of Congress who vote against term limits are identified on the ballot, with this provision: "Disregarded or violated voter instruction on term limits."

About a dozen other states, including California, may adopt the warning label next year.

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