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Congressional candidates come to terms with possible limits

October 13, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Part of the debate over whether Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett should return to Congress for a ninth term hinges on what he said and did 16 years ago.

"Congressman Bartlett ran on term limits 16 years ago," Jennifer Dougherty, his Democratic challenger, said at a candidate forum in Halfway last week, four weeks before the general election. "He said he would only serve two terms -- 16 years ago. So, clearly there's a failure to communicate here. We understood that that's what his promise was to us."

Bartlett, though, disputed the allegation.

"I never promised to stay there only two terms," he said. "What I did do is sign the 'Lead or Leave' pledge, which said that if we had not reduced the deficit to less than half in two terms, then I would leave. We did reduce the deficit to less than half in those two terms."

The "Lead or Leave" pledge was put forward by a group concerned about the federal budget deficit. More than 100 candidates in 1992 signed it, according to news reports.

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"Rep. Bartlett fulfilled the terms of the Lead or Leave pledge that he signed BECAUSE his votes contributed to the federal budget deficit actually being cut in half by the end of his second term," Lisa Wright, Bartlett's press secretary, wrote in response to an e-mail asking about the pledge.

During a 1991 candidate forum, Bartlett said he opposed term limits for Congress, contending that reforms in campaign spending would be a better fix, according to a Herald-Mail story at the time.

By 1992, he had changed his mind.

"I once said term limitations is like burning down the barn to save the rat," the story quoted him saying. "But now the barn is so termite-ridden, you might as well burn it down."

At last week's forum in Halfway, Dougherty and Libertarian candidate Gary W. Hoover Sr. each suggested five terms, or 10 years, as a reasonable maximum for the House of Representatives.

Bartlett argued against an arbitrary cutoff.

"I voted for four term-limit bills when I first went to Congress," he said. "I don't think I'd do that again unless we really change Washington.

"The most powerful people in Washington are not the people that you elect. The most powerful people in Washington is the staff.

"Our government is so big, our government is so complex. Your members spend so much time out there what we're doing today, campaigning and so forth, they just don't have time to have the knowledge that they need to run the government ...

"The most powerful people in Washington are those who have been there the longest. I will not hurt my district by unilaterally doing a term limit."

Wright wrote that Bartlett's 16 years in Congress have brought him "seniority and friendships based upon trust and mutual respect with members, including leaders, in both parties. He notes that these two factors are extremely influential for getting things done in the Congress."

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