Romney, Republican-led House at odds on congressional term limits

Mitt Romney has embraced congressional term limits, but House Republican leaders have shown no interest in reviving an idea that Newt Gingrich championed in 1994.

“I would love to see term limits for congressmen and senators,” the former Massachusetts governor said earlier this month. “We have one for the president. It’s a good idea.”

Romney did not specify the lengths of such term-limits, however.

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Gingrich led the charge for 12-year term limits as part of the GOP Contract with America. After winning control of the House back then, Republicans passed a term limit measure, but it died in the Senate.

Even though Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) voted for that legislation, the term-limit idea was not included in the House GOP’s 2010 “Pledge to America.”

At a time when congressional approval ratings are at record lows, term limits have a lot of appeal to voters, says Claremont-McKenna political science professor Jack Pitney.

He said it’s not surprising that the presidential contenders have backed them, noting that it’s unlikely that Republicans in Congress have taken offense: “Most people understand how popular term limits are.”

Over the last year, a handful of lawmakers have introduced various Constitutional amendments to limit the number of terms for House members and senators. Those efforts have gained little traction. 

President Obama has never embraced term limits, but a key facet of his reelection campaign is running against Congress. It is one of many policy differences between Obama and Romney and Gingrich, the frontrunners for the GOP nomination. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) have also spoken out for term limits.

The head of national term limit advocacy group, U.S. Term Limits, Paul Farago, isn’t surprised that term limit legislation is picking up some momentum from the campaign trail.

“Clearly they realize term limits are popular with voters so they are reaching out to make that connection,” Farago said.

Farago’s group has endorsed the term limit amendment introduced by freshman Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.). Schweikert's amendment would limit House members to serving three terms and senators to two terms.

Farago is well aware that term limits will not happen any time soon.

“[Schweikert’s amendment is] gathering co-sponsors and will be introduced in the next Congress, and the next Congress and the next Congress…. It’s a long, slow process to amend the Constitution,” he said.