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Congressman: Term Limits 'Only Going to Happen If Enough Americans Make It Happen'

Oregon Circuit Court Judge Vance Day listens during an arraignment in Salem, Ore. (Ashley Smith/Statesman-Journal via AP, file)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) on Thursday urged American citizens to mobilize support for limiting congressional terms, which he believes would be a major step in fixing a broken system.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Freedom Caucus Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) have all voiced support for setting term limits. Cruz and DeSantis in January proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit senators to two six-year terms and House members to three two-year terms. A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds support in both chambers of Congress, which would set the stage for state ratification.

Buck noted that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that any term-limit proposal will not be heard on the Senate Floor. The day after the election, McConnell told reporters, “I would say we have term limits now. They’re called elections. And it will not be on the agenda in the Senate.”

“That seems to me to be a great reason to term-limit somebody,” Buck said during an appearance at the Heritage Foundation. “It’s only going to happen if enough Americans make it happen, and if it won’t happen inside the dome, it’s got to happen outside the dome with a convention of the states.”

Cruz and DeSantis in a joint press release in January cited a Rasmussen survey from October showing that 74 percent of the country supports limiting terms for lawmakers.

“D.C. is broken,” Cruz said in a statement in January. “The American people resoundingly agreed on Election Day… It is well past time to put an end to the cronyism and deceit that has transformed Washington into a graveyard of good intentions.”

With America $20 trillion in debt, Buck said it’s equally important to see movement on a balanced budget amendment. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in January introduced a constitutional amendment that would stop the federal government from spending more money than it takes in, while also limiting federal discretion over tax increases and the debt limit. The amendment would cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross national product.

Buck said it’s the same situation with both constitutional amendments, based on the incentive structure for Congress.

“I can tell you right now, as I see the incentive structure, there’s no way that the House and the Senate ever get to a House budget amendment or term limits,” Buck said. “There is no incentive right now to limit the activities because we’re putting this on our grandchildren’s credit card. There is no pain in putting something down the road and paying for it 20, 30, 40 years from now.”

Buck recalled 1997, when a similar balanced budget amendment proposal came within one vote of passing in the Senate.

“I think there is an advantage or pressure of having something get very close where Congress will actually take action,” Buck said. “I don’t think this Congress is as sensitive to the public’s desire as Congress’ House and Senate were in the 1990s, so I think the only way it’s going to happen is through a convention of the states.”

Grassley in a statement called the balanced budget proposal “simple math.”

“The federal government should not be spending more taxpayer money than it brings in,” Grassley said in a statement. “Families, farmers and businesses across my home state of Iowa and across the entire country make difficult decisions every day to balance the books. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

Around the time that the amendment was introduced, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report denouncing the proposal. The think tank claims that the amendment would leave the U.S. economy vulnerable to “longer and deeper” recessions by forcing the federal government to cut spending and raise taxes when it should be doing the opposite.