Calling Washington ‘Derelict,’ DeSantis Pushes for Constitutional Amendments, Including Term Limits in Congress

Florida governor decries a federal government that ‘works for itself, not the American people.’

AP/Charlie Neibergall
Governor DeSantis speaks during a meet and greet, December 7, 2023, at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. AP/Charlie Neibergall

Describing a federal government that “works for itself, not the American people,” Governor DeSantis of Florida is proposing constitutional amendments for a balanced budget, line-item veto, House and Senate term limits, and requiring Congress to abide by the laws it passes.

Article V of the Constitution states that a two-thirds vote by both houses of Congress can be used to introduce amendments. Two-thirds of the states, 34 of 50, can also call a convention to do so. The proposals must then be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures to become law. 

Mr. DeSantis writes on X that he is traveling the country to drum up support for the four proposed amendments. A convention would hammer out details, such as the length of time senators and representatives would be allowed to serve.

A September poll of American adults found that 87 percent favor term limits on Congress, and in the early 1990s, 23 states passed laws imposing them. But in a 1995 case, U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, the Supreme Court voided the laws, in a 6-to-3 ruling.

The Nine held that as with the 22nd Amendment saying a president can serve a maximum of 10 years — two years after acceding from the vice presidency and two terms — only an amendment could curtail congressional tenure.

Age is on the minds of Americans with President Biden, 81, the oldest president in history, and President Trump just three years younger. The 118th Congress is the third oldest since 1789. 

President Truman, in office when the 22nd Amendment was ratified, said, “Term Limits would cure both senility and seniority — both terrible legislative diseases.”

Service on Capitol Hill is emerging as a lifetime job. In the 2022 midterm elections, all 28 incumbent senators won, a first. House members enjoyed similar re-election rates; all but 6 percent kept their jobs.

With the national debt at more than $34.3 trillion, two of the proposed amendments focus on reining in spending with tools that many states already have. These would give presidents a line-item veto and mandate a balanced budget — absent a national emergency.

Of course, the “national emergency” language allows end-runs around any balanced-budget amendment. Forty-three emergencies are active under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. 

The oldest national emergency dates to 1979, when President Carter signed an executive order freezing Iranian assets. President Biden has declared nine national emergencies and renewed 34 holdovers.

A line-item veto would be harder for Congress to circumvent. It would empower a president to cut “pork” out of a budget. He or she would have to demonstrate a will to use it, but the Line-Item Veto Act 1996 provided a brief test run of its effectiveness.

President Clinton — who served as governor of Arkansas, one of 43 states that have a line-item veto — used the knife to cut 82 projects totaling about $2 billion. But in 1998, the Supreme Court voided the Act in Clinton v. City of New York, again holding that only a constitutional amendment could affect such a change.

 The last amendment, Equal Laws for the Public and Members of Congress, “provides that Congress may not pass any law with an effect on the people that does not apply to members of Congress.” In short, nobody would be above the law.

Expect the idea of a legislature subjecting itself to the same laws it passes to resonate. Last month, a bipartisan group in Congress proposed a law to ban representatives and their families from insider trading of stocks after a public outcry.

Amending the Constitution is not an easy task or one to be undertaken on a whim. As America learned with the 18th Amendment enacting Prohibition, they often prove blunt tools for jobs that are better done with a scalpel. Elections and pressuring representatives could accomplish all that amendment proponents seek.

However, those backing the constraints on Congress deserve credit for abiding by the Constitution rather than seeking end-runs around it. In the face of a sprawling federal government, it’s a reminder that the Constitution still vests ultimate power in the hands of the states and the people themselves.

The New York Sun

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