On Term-Limits Amendment, Republican Divisions Are Widening
By Helen Dewar
While many victorious Republican candidates ran on platforms that included support for a term-limits amendment, post-election comments from prominent GOP leaders indicate the party is far from united in support of limiting congressional terms.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), incoming chairmen of the two chambers' Judiciary committees, have expressed opposition to term limits. Yesterday Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has played a key role in other institutional reform battles, came out swinging against the amendment and, for good measure, added that he was launching an effort to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which imposes a two-term limit on presidents.
As part of their "Contract With America" campaign platform, House Republicans pledged to put the issue to a vote within the first 100 days of the new Congress. While Senate Republicans did not include the amendment on their list of campaign pledges, incoming majority leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) has said it will be considered at some point.
Any substantial Republican opposition could be critical because many Democrats are opposed to term limits and overwhelming GOP support probably will be necessary to muster the two-thirds vote necessary in each chamber to pass any constitutional amendment. If the amendment is approved by Congress, it is subject to ratification by three-quarters of the states.
Gathering yesterday outside the Supreme Court at the conclusion of arguments over the constitutionality of state-imposed term limits, several prominent House and Senate Republicans, including likely House majority leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), reaffirmed their intention to push as quickly as possible for action on an amendment.
But they expressed uncertainty over the outcome, especially if the Supreme Court rules against state-imposed term limits.
"I believe we have a good chance," said Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), a leader of the term-limits effort in the House. But he added he could now identify only about 200 supporters, considerably short of the 290 needed for approval of the amendment.
Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.), who spearheaded a term-limits effort in connection with campaign finance legislation in the 103rd Congress, said he was confident that an amendment would pick up more than the 39 votes it got last year. But asked if it could get a two-thirds majority, Brown laughed and said, "It's a very, very long way to 67" votes.
At a news conference a few minutes later, McConnell said Republicans should concentrate on issues that unite rather than divide them. "This," he added, "is not an issue that unifies all Republicans, certainly not this Republican."
McConnell likened the latest term-limit fervor to the Republicans' post-World War II "overreaction to years of Democratic control" of the White House when they forced approval of the presidential term limit. Since then, the only presidents with a chance of winning third terms have been Republicans, he argued.
McConnell also contended that term limits would punish small states that rely on seniority for power, increase influence of congressional staffs and limit voters' choice. Moreover, he said, "voters have already solved the problem" by electing more than 200 new House members in the last three elections and 55 new senators in the last decade.
But he also acknowledged the political appeal of the term-limits effort. "Voters see it as a way to stick it to politicians as a class," he observed.
Term-limit supporters divide over when to cap legislative service. One proposal would limit House service to six years, another would place the cap at 12. Both would limit senators to two six-year terms. Most Republicans say the limits should apply only for the future, although some Democrats have suggested -- mischievously or otherwise -- that limits include years already served, which would cut short the service of many Republicans, including Dole and House speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich (Ga.).
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