by Nick Tomboulides
“How can you expect Congress to vote for term limits on itself? That’ll never happen!”
But it already has.
In 1995, the House of Representatives voted 227-204 in favor of a constitutional amendment limiting its own terms and those of U.S. Senators. The bill didn’t pass because, while it received a pure majority, any constitutional amendment proposal requires a two-thirds supermajority vote. This proved definitively that, if they feel enough pressure from citizens like you, members of Congress will indeed vote to limit their own power.
While forcing the YES vote was a tremendous success for the term limits movement of the 1990s, it taught us that we need to go further to make congressional term limits a reality. We must dramatically ramp up the level of pressure on Congress, to the point where millions of passionate term limits supporters are jamming the D.C. switchboard each day with pleas for a vote. Candidates from both parties should feel politically doomed if they don’t jump aboard the term limits train.
That starts by demanding that candidates sign the U.S. Term Limits pledge. In 1995, there was no consensus among congressmen on what the ideal term limits were. Thanks to the USTL Pledge, that divergence is disappearing.
Our pledge asks members – while campaigning – to promise unification behind one proposal: an amendment limiting House members to three terms and Senators to two. The idea here is building consensus. So far, this method has been very effective. We’ve added a dozen pledge signers to the Congress in each of the past two cycles, and have already secured signatures from 180 candidates for the 2014 cycle*. Since incumbents almost never lose, we’ll always add signers at a much faster pace than we’ll lose them. Congress’ biggest weakness — endless incumbency — is the pledge’s greatest strength.
Legislators voting to term limit themselves also has precedent at the state level. Louisiana’s state legislators voted in 1995 to refer to voters a ballot measure that would place term limits on their own seats. It passed handily, with 76 percent of the vote. Utah’s legislature voted for term limits on itself without utilizing the initiative process.
All of these cases had a unifying theme: pressure. Politicians in Louisiana, Utah and the U.S. Congress didn’t suddenly have an epiphany that term limits were the right thing to do. They voted the way they did because constituents would no longer tolerate a lack of representation on the issue.
That’s the model we are using here. If you’re ready to join the fight, download the U.S. Term Limits Amendment Pledge today and demand that your House and Senate candidates sign. History shows that this can be done if we as activists are willing to make the commitment.
Nick Tomboulides has been Executive Director of U.S. Term Limits since 2013.
*In the years since then, we have 70 pledge signers in Congress and our numbers have increased substantially including hundreds of candidates for state office and hundreds of seated state legislators as well.