Opinion

Florida's call for term limits is first step to needed reform

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Florida legislators on Thursday unanimously called on the U.S. Congress to approve and refer to the states for their consideration a constitutional amendment establishing term limits for senators and representatives For a movement that was betrayed and left for dead by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republican leaders in 1996, the term limits movement is today showing remarkable signs of revival. With the federal government careening toward bankruptcy, public approval of Congress at record lows, the economy staggering under a blizzard of costly new bureaucratic regulations, and professional politicians rigging campaign rules to protect their incumbency, the only surprise here is that anybody would be surprised that term limits is again climbing up the national agenda.

The Florida vote was preceded last month with introduction of a measure sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., that calls for congressional approval of a term-limits constitutional amendment. The DeMint-Schweikert proposal doesn't specify how many terms would be permitted, but once agreement is reached and approved by Congress, the proposed amendment must then be approved by 38, or three-fourths, of the 50 states in order to be added to the Constitution. Skeptics would seriously err by assuming the new drive for term limits won't get anywhere. "Florida is the first state to take this step, but it will not be the last. 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," said Philip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits.

Blumel knows that three-quarters of the American people support term limits today for Congress, just as they did in 1996 when Republican Contract with America leaders duplicitously blocked it. A September 2010 survey conducted for Fox News by Public Opinion Dynamics found that 78 percent of the respondents back term limits. That support cuts across party and ideological lines, with 84 percent of Republicans backing term limits, as well as 74 percent of Democrats and independents. Those figures will only grow if Washington's partisan gridlock continues in coming months as gas prices rise, unemployment remains unacceptably high, and nothing is done about the national debt.

It is important to understand that term limits are nothing new in America because for most of our history officials term-limited themselves. Before the Civil War, it was not uncommon for three-fourths of all incoming members of the House of Representatives to be freshmen. Between 1850 and 1900, however, as being in Congress became a career instead of an opportunity for public service, the percentage of freshmen dropped from 60 percent to 24 percent. The percentage continued to drop as the federal government grew larger throughout the 20 century, to the point that today being a congressional incumbent is virtually a lifetime guaranteed job. This is why, Blumel argues, "passage of congressional term limits is a foundational reform needed to re-establish a sense of reality to Washington, D.C., where the entrenched political leadership no longer represents the current thinking or interests of the voters in their former home states."

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