LAST MARCH, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole promised his party's 11 new members that he would have a vote on a term limits constitutional amendment this fall. He put the matter on the Senate calendar for this week. But nine of the 11 freshmen Republican senators have now asked him to postpone the vote until next April.
These senators accepting reality in getting the vote taken off the calendar. There is no way they can get the required two-thirds of the Senate to go along with them on this senseless issue. But why next April? The lineup against them will be the same. Too many Democrats and senior Republicans are flatly opposed.
The House, which is more zealous than the Senate, voted last March on several versions of a constitutional amendment limiting congressional length of service. They all failed. The one that got the most support was 61 votes short. So even if Senator Dole (who has served five terms by the way), were by some miracle to get the necessary votes to limit senators to the proposed two terms, it still would not go to the states for ratification. Speaker Newt Gingrich has said he doesn't intend to take the matter up again until 1997.
We have said many times that we think term limits is a bad idea. We believe voters should have the right to elect a representative or senator for as long as they are satisfied with his or her work. And to oust them. Sometimes it's tough to limit terms by beating an incumbent, but it can be done. That this Congress has more newcomers than any in recent years proves that terms can be limited in the voting booth. There are 87 freshmen in the House, 35 of whom ousted incumbents. There are 11 new senators; only two of them ousted incumbents, but that's a little misleading: five senators retired because they saw the handwriting on the wall. They knew their days were numbered.
Twelve current senators are freshmen elected in 1992. Ten to 12 or maybe more new senators will be elected next year, due to retirements and expected defeats. Add 1994's 11, and in 1997 more than a third of the Senate will be first termers. Who needs