Speaker 2: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Democrats offered change in the 2018 midterms and Americans responded by giving them control of the US House of Representatives. But are voters going to get the change they’re asking for? Probably not. How could that happen if the same old senior democrats waltz back into their leadership positions and stay there forever?
Philip Blumel: A significant portion of the junior democrats in Congress recognize this problem and are demanding term limits on committee chairs be included in the new rules package to be voted on in the House in early January. To discuss this is Nick Tomboulides, executive director of US Term Limits.
Philip Blumel: Hey Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey Phil.
Philip Blumel: So we have some movement on term limits within the democratic party and the US House, I think it’s pretty interesting. We’re not privy to a lot of it because this negotiation goes on behind closed doors, but I’m thinking it’s pretty significant.
Nick Tomboulides: It is and the debate on the table right now is whether to continue a rule that was started in the Newt Gingrich era, the mid-1990s, as kind of a reaction to the burgeoning term limits movement at the time. Newt and the Republican Caucus decided to impose a six year limit on chairman of committees. Of course term limits on committee chairman don’t necessarily mean that those members have to leave Congress after they leave the committee, many of them do still stick around, some choose to retire. But there are 66 new democrats and 44 new republicans coming into the House in 2019. That’s about a 25% turnover rate.
Nick Tomboulides: Does that mean that the career politicians in Congress feel threatened? I don’t think so.
Philip Blumel: No way.
Nick Tomboulides: No, because they have basically rigged the system to make sure that they get to keep the power no matter who gets elected. These 110 new members are going to have to pay their dues for years and years before having a real bite at the apple, which is precisely why this group, it’s a bipartisan group, wants committee term limits. It’s a diverse group, a lot of younger people with newer ideas. Several of these people are the first African-American women to be elected from their states, first Korean-American in Congress in 20 years. They don’t want to wait for marching orders. They want to take the initiative and that is Nancy Pelosi’s dilemma right now. Because Nancy is 78 years old, she was first elected three years before I was born and she wants to be Speaker again. Right now she’s a few votes short so she is expressing support for term limits to win these younger members over to her side.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. She said that she’s sympathetic to this idea. In fact, she said she’s always been sympathetic to the idea and she actually has been. Back in 2007, she made a push to adopt committee chair term limits within the Democratic Caucus in the House and she was voted down. So this is an idea that she’s actually pushed for a long time and there’s a lot of support within the Democratic party for this. You mentioned, of course, the junior members who are so far away from the levers of power that without committee chairs, they’re really consigned to be on the sidelines, and by the way, while they’re waiting on the sidelines collecting checks from special interests over the next decade or two until they’ve been deemed senior enough to take these positions. But there’s other support within the democratic party for it. I mentioned Pelosi.
Philip Blumel: Importantly, the incoming Rules chairman, Jim McGovern, who’s a democrat from Massachusetts, he’s open to the idea. Of course, it’s helpful that he’s on the Rules Committee himself and is going to be chairing it and in particular, Representative Ed Perlmutter of Colorado is a hold out and one of the 20 members of the Democratic Caucus who have vowed not to vote for Nancy Pelosi and there was a meeting between him and Pelosi the other day in which term limits was discussed, that’s not in dispute. There’s a rumor that there was deal offered by Pelosi that she would come out for the term limits and push it if he would give her his vote for Speaker. I can’t confirm that, but that’s what the story is out there.
Nick Tomboulides: And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with getting these politicians to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. If Pelosi is going to slap term limits …
Philip Blumel: It’s the only way it can be done most of the time.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. It’s not like there’s another option. But even forcing Pelosi to utter the words term limits is a positive development for our country and maybe it will lead to something more. I feel like this debate is sort of microcosm of the broader movement to term limit Congress in that the newer members representing the citizens of America are all for it but the careerist dinosaurs don’t want to give up their wealth and power and that’s where all the backlash is coming from. I hope the irony is not lost on Nancy Pelosi either.
Speaker 4: This is a public service announcement.
Speaker 5: By now you’ve heard that George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, died on Friday, November 30th in Houston. What may not have been mentioned in the eulogies to him over the weekend is that Mr. Bush, like presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump who followed him, advocated that term limits be imposed on the US Congress. In the Presidential Debates leading up to the 1992 elections, Mr. Bush was asked by a moderator if he supported the idea and what he would do to implement them.
Speaker 6: Please state your position on term limits and if you are in favor of them how will you get them enacted?
Pres. Bush: I’ll be glad to respond.
Speaker 6: Thank you.
Pres. Bush: I strongly support term limits for members of the United States Congress. I believe it would return the government closer to the people in the way that Ross Perot is talking about. The President’s terms are limited to two, a total of eight years. What’s wrong with limiting the terms of members of Congress to 12. Congress has gotten kind of institutionalized. For 38 years one party has controlled the House of Representatives and the result, sorry little post office that can’t do anything right and a bank that has more overdrafts than all of Chase Bank and Citibank put together. We’ve got to do something about it and I think you get a certain arrogance, bureaucratic arrogance if people stay there too long and so I favor, strongly favor, term limits.
Pres. Bush: How do you get them passed? Send us some people that will pass the idea. And I think you will. I think the American people want it now. Every place I go I talk about it and I think they want it done. Actually, you’d have to have some amendments to the Constitution because of the way the Constitution reads.
Philip Blumel: There are so many reasons why committee chair term limits are a good idea. We mentioned the one about the new members being able to actually have a voice in the new House. Necessarily having new faces and new ideas on these committees will be helpful but also it will result in a younger, more energetic leadership because one interesting dichotomy in the House over the last several years is that the Republican Caucus has put term limits on their committee chairs, whereas the democrats have not. So we have sort of a comparison and one thing that’s happened between the two parties is that there’s become a large divergence in the age of their leaders.
Philip Blumel: The democratic party, the average age of the democratic leader is 72-years old and the republican side of the House, the average age is 59.
Nick Tomboulides: You know, for those of us who really care about getting a term limits amendment that would throw them, not just out of the committees, but out of Congress all together, I think committee limits are a great first step.
Nick Tomboulides: Let me tell you what I mean. Ron DeSantis, former Congressman, now Governor-elect of Florida, once told me that committee power is a huge reason why it is so tough to get Congress behind a term limits amendment. Think about it. You get elected and you start rising through the ranks. For the first few years, you’re kind of like that kid who gets picked last in dodge ball, you’re constantly getting your glasses broken, you’re just an after thought. But with time, you actually start to get more popular with your peers, you get more popular with the lobbyists, who then start cutting you bigger checks and that money gets paid to the party in exchange for assignments to a prime committee.
Nick Tomboulides: For example, if you were to cough up a million bucks, they’ll put you on Ways and Means, that deals with tax writings, social security, Medicare, it’s the oldest committee in the United States and it also covers the most important issues. You have to pay half a million dollars to get on that committee.
Philip Blumel: Right.
Nick Tomboulides: Money you get, of course, from the very same people who benefit from the tax laws you’re writing. So it’s soft corruption, essentially. And DeSantis’ argument was, if a member of Congress sits around for 15 years waiting for that power, he’s going to let you term limit him out of office just when it’s time to take over.
Philip Blumel: Right. And while he’s doing that waiting, he’s losing his ties to his original community and he’s been accepting special interest checks the whole time.
Philip Blumel: Al Hunt in the New York Times, a political commentator, you probably know him, he makes an argument that’s similar to what DeSantis is saying, at least related to it, he says that long time committee leaders become captive of the interests and the agencies they oversee.
Nick Tomboulides: Right.
Philip Blumel: So new committee chairmen are much more likely to bring fresh perspectives to the office and, sure you lose expertise, whatever, but the rule doesn’t mean that term limited Congressmen have to leave Congress or they don’t even have to leave the committee, by the way, they just leave that position of power chairing the committee and also the replacement is chosen by the Speaker and presumably the Speaker is making that choice based on people that have the experience to do a good job running that committee and not just political reasons. But of course, it’s obviously going to be a mix.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, sometimes losing that committee power also encourages a lot of members to resign voluntarily because they don’t want to go sit in the back of the room anymore. They were there for the power and once that disappears, they’ve basically outlived their usefulness.
Philip Blumel: Sure and if they’re that age, retirement age, a lot of them will go and statistically we’ve seen that. In this election cycle, we had several republican House members retire more than we saw in the democratic party and a good part of that reason is that several key chairmen had term limited out and they didn’t want to go back to the back of the line.
Paul Jacob: Democracy can degrade into other things, even strong man rule. To avoid such degradation, we have a ready prophylactic, term limits, which hamper would-be dictators for life, including entrenched ala cartes in the legislature. Many countries illustrate the point but take Peru, where the new head of state, Martin Vizcarra, has been combating political corruption by supporting a referendum to impose term limits and other reforms on Peru’s Congress. Voters weigh in on December 9th. The Congressional term limit would be a ban on consecutive terms.
Paul Jacob: Peru’s presidency itself is limited, too weakly in my judgment by a ban on consecutive terms. A former president may run again after a term out of office, but at least this is much better than having no presidential term limits at all. Vizcarra got the top job earlier this year when his predecessor resigned because of corruption charges. The former vice president wasn’t very popular at first but Vizcarra’s fight against corruption and for legislative term limits has changed things. The new guy now enjoys a 61% approval rating.
Paul Jacob: May I offer a suggestion to our own head of state? American’s too, are heartedly sick of corrupt incumbents. We too would love to see congressional term limits. Instead of voicing only occasional strong support for efforts to impose them, President Trump could make it a crusade, push for the idea as loudly as eloquently as he can, day in and day out. The future of the country is at stake and it would boost his approval ratings. This is common sense. I’m Paul Jacob.
Paul Jacob: For more common sense, go to Thisiscommonsense.com
Philip Blumel: With three states already in the bag, we are excited about the prospects of passing more term limits convention resolutions in 2019. The first state to pass the resolution was Florida in 2016, a trial run for a nascent campaign to impose congressional term limits via an Article V Convention. On the line we have John Hallman who is key to the Florida victory. As a professional lobbyist, he helped shepherd bills from introduction through multiple committees and then to the floor for a vote, but as a liberty lobbyist, as he calls himself, he’s an anomaly. He only takes on clients who represent grass root issues that benefit the general interest, like term limits rather than special interests looking for government favors.
Philip Blumel: Hey John.
John Hallman: Hey Phil.
Philip Blumel: Hey, how’s it going? Florida was the trial run for the term limits convention project. It’s success led us to launch the nationwide effort, now in its second full year.
John Hallman: one thing we also have in Florida is an active volunteer network that we’re focusing their communications, basically where you recommended.
Philip Blumel: What were the mechanics of that? When you came to us and said I want you to send all the calls and emails over here or I want you to try to publish a op-ed piece in this town, what were those decisions based on?
John Hallman: Sure, when I am pushing bills through the legislature, obviously it’s done one committee at a time, because if I can’t get it through the first committee of reference, then I’m basically dead for the year so I always focus real strong on the first committee and the committee members. In the case of Article V, the first committee was Ethics and Elections Committee and my vote count showed that it was borderline, actually.
Philip Blumel: Oh, I remember this. Yes.
John Hallman: Yeah, you remember that?
Philip Blumel: Yep.
John Hallman: And there was one republican that was just admittedly a staunch opponent of Article V and so with the closeness of that, I couldn’t afford to go through all the work that we went through and to have the first committee kill it for the session.
Philip Blumel: It almost did die at that committee, if I remember right.
John Hallman: It became very close so I was really scrambling that morning of the committee meeting and so if I know that they are an opponent, then I need to try to see if I can put some grass roots pressure and that’s where you guys came in.
Philip Blumel: In that particular case, before the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, I remember that it was the vice chair of the committee, John Legg, am I right?
John Hallman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Philip Blumel: John Legg, he came out with an objection and it was a conspiracy based objection, and I think it was unexpected and they were going to table it, but the day was saved by …
John Hallman: Senator Geraldine Thompson.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. And that, I think, was unexpected and it also was very gratifying to us that she came out of the woodwork and saved the day with her Yay vote. It would have been dead right at the beginning of the process if it wasn’t for that vote.
John Hallman: Without Senator Thompson, we would have lost that vote and that’s why, that morning knowing that the vote was going to be close, I don’t want to just talk to the republican members, I want to talk to democrats because sometimes on a close vote, if you can sway a democrat to vote for your cause than that can make a difference and it did. I was excited when I spoke to Senator Thompson that morning before the meeting that she agreed to support it and that absolutely saved the day. Sometimes you get friends from places you don’t expect.
Philip Blumel: Right. So one lesson from this was, and again, we’re taking to other states, is that you can’t just rely on the majority party. Florida has a republican House and a republican Governor so you think, what do you need the democrats for, well Geraldine showed us what you need the democrats for.
Philip Blumel: Some of the things that activists did in the Florida effort, activists sent letters, calls and emails, where basically you directed them to, where our chief lobbyist would say, okay, you gotta hit this guy on this committee right now because they’re wavering or to thank this person for taking some action.
Philip Blumel: We spoke at groups in key districts and published op-eds. We also prompted groups around the state to endorse the bill. That’s probably helpful in some general way. On the activist side, what do you think was the most helpful?
John Hallman: All of the above. I never depend on any one thing working Phil, so like you said, you all were able to get a lot of the republican executive committees, each county to sign on. You got some other groups to endorse it. I would never feel comfortable at any point feeling like I’ve done enough. I would try to get everybody and anybody and any group to show support and just, in general, grass roots calls from constituents back home is always big with legislators. When they start hearing from people that are their voters, that has a huge effect on them too, as well, and they start feeling the pressure. Like, oh boy, even if I don’t like this, I better vote for it. So, all of that, I can’t say that any one or the other was the most important thing but cumulatively, it was very effective.
Philip Blumel: One thing that we try to tell activists is to talk to their legislator about the bill once it’s been introduced and they might have the opportunity to meet the legislator, maybe at a public meeting where they can, during the Q&A, ask them if they are supportive of the bill or they could go up to the Capitol and go door to door, probably with a group of fellow term limit supporters.
Philip Blumel: What kind of approach did they take with legislators? A lot of our activists don’t spend a lot of time in the capitol. What kind of approach do you take with these guys so that they’ll listen and respect what we’re telling them about something that’s touchy, term limits?
John Hallman: Well first of all, visiting your representative, setting up an appointment in the home district before the session, you want to lay some groundwork down, so if you …
Philip Blumel: We should be doing this right now.
John Hallman: Yeah, exactly. You don’t want to wait until two weeks before the vote and the session. So when I go around giving classes on grass roots activism, I stress the importance that you … and bring a group of people, make an appointment with the legislator, and you don’t want to be combative. There’s time later if you want to be more critical but at first you want to just establish a relationship and meet with them in their home district and they should know who you are. To be really effective as a grass roots advocate, that Senator and that Representative, they should know who you are. So, if you can’t go to Tallahassee, which is a long drive for most people, that if you call the office, that the legislative aide knows who you are and go, “Oh yes, let me put you right through to the Senator”. And that’s very effective, they’ve got to feel some heat back home. They need to know that there’s a group of people that believe in term limits and that’s very effective.
John Hallman: I mean, they, again, maybe they personally don’t like it, but they also understand that there’s mobilization going on back in the district so that’s, number one, very effective.
Stacey Selleck: Voters prefer head lice to the US Congress. Sounds like a joke but it’s actually true. In a recent podcast US Term Limits executive director, Nick Tomboulides and US Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas preferred to American’s ranking of Congress of somewhere in the vicinity of head lice and gonorrhea, respectively. Congressional favorability ratings rise and fall over time and pollsters watch these political portents closely. When we say rise and fall, we actually mean that the likeability of Congress consistently hovers between a near rock bottom 9-20% earning them a spot below America’s preference for head lice. It turns out both Tomboulides and O’Rourke were referring to genuine research. In 2013, public policy and polling in North Carolina was inspired by a death spiral dip in congressional popularity. Can you believe an all-time low of 9% to ask, “Do voters really think of members of Congress with the same disdain they have for traffic jams and colonoscopies?” It turns out they don’t. They prefer traffic jams and colonoscopies to Congress by a whopping 20 percentage points.
Stacey Selleck: According to the PPP polling, Americans also have a higher opinion of root canals, Genghis Chan, used car salesmen, and Brussels sprouts. But Americans are a discriminating lot, they are willing to see the virtue in Congress when compared to Fidel Castro, lobbyists, meth labs, Ebola, and the Kardashians. You can find the link to the full poll results in our episode 16 program notes at www.termlimits.com/podcast. Dissing Congress is a bipartisan sport, PPP reports that 82% of democrats and 87% of republicans express disfavor of Congress, which is very a very similar level of support we see in both parties for term limits. Clearly this is one issue that unites Americans regardless of political affiliation. While humorous, this survey uses state-of-the-art polling methodology and begs the serious question, “If Congress is so universally disrespected, why are well over 90% of incumbents running for their own seat re-elected?” The answer is that the system is rigged in favor of incumbents for the purpose of protecting them against the public’s ire.
Stacey Selleck: The vast majority of congressional elections across the country are nominal, lopsided affairs. The automatic special interest financial support and other advantages that come with incumbency are simply overwhelming and dissuade serious goal oriented people from running for those offices. It’s a shame. Only in open seat elections does the contemporaneous thinking of voters squeak into an entrenched Congress, even then the newby’s are far, far away from the levels of power in a seniority based system. By the time they get a shot at a committee helm, it’s too late. They have already become acculturated to the swamp. Washington, DC changes them before they are able to change Washington, DC. It’s no wonder voters see them in the same light as playground bullies, replacement NFL referees and pop stars like Lindsey Lohan.
Stacey Selleck: For more news and commentary on term limits in our country, follow us on most social media @USTermLimits.
Philip Blumel: The committee limits are great first steps.
Nick Tomboulides: So Phil, if folks want to see to it that this rule is implemented by the Democratic Caucus, what can they do? How can they get involved and contact their representatives to ask for this to be enacted?
Philip Blumel: Well, like I said, this is going on behind closed doors but we know it’s going on. So what we need to do is contact our democratic House members … and if you’re a democrat yourself, it’s going to be more effective … so what I really recommend you do is go to the US Term Limit website, that’s TermLimits.com/savehousetermlimits, plural. So it’s TermLimits.com/savehousetermlimits and go there and you’ll be able to put in your address and your representatives information will pop up, you can give them a quick message saying, “Hey support committee chair term limits, this is really important” and they’ll hear from you. It’ll be fantastic if democrats across the nation use this tool and really let our representatives know that people back home are watching and we care. This is an important first step in achieving term limits on the entire Congress.
Philip Blumel: Speaking of corruption, today Sunday, December 9th is United Nations Anti-Corruption Day in which they proclaim the global campaign in order to discourage corruption in various governments.
Nick Tomboulides: United Nations Anti-Corruption Day? Isn’t that kind of like Vegan Porterhouse Day?
Philip Blumel: Yes, very much so and I think actually the corruption they’re worried about is not so much at the UN but in the UN member nations where they correctly point out that corruption is a serious problem across the globe, there’s really no country that’s completely free of it and the cost to prosperity, as a result, in loss of respect for institutions, et cetera, et cetera … I don’t know that this campaign has any real teeth or meaning across the globe in most place but there’s one major exception that is worth pointing out, and that is in Peru today, Anti-Corruption Day, there’s going to be vote taken to add four provisions to the Constitution, one of which is term limits. If it passes, then members of the Assembly re going to be limited to a single five year term. They’ll be able to sit out and run again later but we’re going to see some real rotation in office in Peru if the voters pass this. And believe me, the voters of Peru are angry about the level of corruption in that country.
Philip Blumel: Polls show that 94% of Peruvians thought that the level of corruption in their country was very high and need to be addressed, hence this vote today.
Nick Tomboulides: That doesn’t surprise me at all. There are a lot of global indices that measure the strength of a democracy and the presence of term limits or a lck there of is usually considered a major indicator as to whether a democracy exists. When I was in Washington, DC last week actually, I got to speak with a member of the Mexican Embassy, a gentleman by the name of Guillermo Malpico, who had just got done negotiating the new free trade agreement between US, Mexico, and Canada, the USMCA Trade Agreement, which is replacing NAFTA, and now that has to go back and be approved by the Mexican legislature. I was asking Guillermo are members of the Mexican legislature allowed to serve for life and he said no. In Mexico, they actually have a 12 year term limit on members of the upper and lower assembly that was passed as a check on corruption and they have three year terms in their lower house. You can serve four of those.
Nick Tomboulides: So this idea of rotation in office is getting traction all over the globe and increasingly it is almost looking embarrassing to our democracy that we have not yet adopted it yet for Congress.
Philip Blumel: Term limits for committee chairs on the democratic side would be a break through for many reasons. One, it will lead to better governance but it will also be a reminder for the majority of Congress members why term limits generally are a good idea. Please go to TermLimits.com/savehousetermlimits and voice your support for committee chair term limits to your democratic representative. That’s TermLimits.com/savehousetermlimits. Also, if you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to our podcast, you can use the podcast app on your iPhone or use Google Play or Stitcher on your Android device or go straight to iTunes and while you’re there, please rate n review us.
Speaker 6: Follow us on Twitter at US Term Limits.
Philip Blumel: We’ll be back next week. Thank you.
Speaker 2: The revolution isn’t being televised, fortunately you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.