Sen. Jim DeMint says Washington politicians are like fruit on the vine: the longer they hang around, the more rotten they get.
The South Carolina Republican - hearkening back to the days of the party’s “Contract with America” - on Tuesday offered a fix to the corrupting influence of “permanent politicians,” introducing an amendment to the Constitution that would limit Senate members to three six-year terms and House members to three two-year terms.
“As long as members have the chance to spend their lives in Washington, their interests will always skew toward spending taxpayer dollars to buy off special interests, covering over corruption in the bureaucracy, fundraising, relationship building among lobbyists, and trading favors for pork - in short, amassing their own power,” said Mr. DeMint, who is running for a second term next year.
Senate leaders and longtime Washington watchdogs said Mr. DeMint’s bill had a zero chance of becoming law, mostly because of a general lack of interest and the high hurdles to amending the Constitution.
“It’s a great issue to talk about, but it’s not going to happen,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic majority’s second-highest ranking leader.
Mr. Durbin said he didn’t know whether the bill would even get a vote.
Term limits have not been a cause celebre on Capitol Hill since the issue featured prominently in the “Contract with America” that helped the Republican Party win control of Congress in 1994. House Republicans brought three versions of constitutional amendments for term limits to the floor in 1995 and each failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), disagrees with Mr. DeMint’s premise that politicians get more corrupt the longer they serve.
“There are plenty of bad members who have been there a short time and plenty of bad members who have been there a long time,” she said. “Length of service just isn’t telling enough. It doesn’t make a great member or a terrible member.”
Mrs. Sloan said the amendment appeared to be more about Mr. DeMint making a statement than about changing the Constitution.
DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said the bill will succeed if the American public get behind it and force lawmakers to put it to a vote.
It takes a two-thirds vote of approval in both chambers to pass a constitutional amendment and then it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The last one to succeed - the 27th Amendment that delays pay raises for members of Congress until after the next election - was proposed in 1789 as part of the Bill of Rights but was not ratified by the states until 1992.
Despite the long odds, Mr. DeMint’s bill picked up two Republican cosponsors: Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who is running for a second term next year and has pledged to not seek a third, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, who is in her third full term but next year is running for governor.