Briefing Paper No. 22

Temporizing on Term Limits: The Speaker Likes 12 Years, Not 6

By James E. Bond
February 7, 1995

Executive Summary

By overwhelmingly margins, Americans continue to support not only term limits but congressional limits of 12 years in the Senate, 6 years in the House. Unable to resist the voters any longer, many members of Congress are at last moving to limit their terms, but they are holding out for 12 years in the House as “the only limits that have a chance of passage.” Leading this temporizing with the voters’ demands is House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But his constitutional and policy arguments will not withstand scrutiny. Far from wanting the two houses of Congress to be equal, as Gingrich implies, the Framers repeatedly argued that they were to be different, with the House “closer to the people.” As for Gingrich’s belief that “a six year learning curve” is just too short, he is not listening to what the people are saying they want their representatives to learn to do—namely, return power to the people.

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James Bond is a professor of law and former dean at the Seattle University School of Law. This is a publication of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.