WASHINGTON -- Advocates of an old idea unveiled new tactics yesterday to try to re-create their vision of the citizen legislature of yore.
U.S. Term Limits, a national lobby, said it would use TV ads to target four Republican members of Congress for supporting term limits more generous to officeholders than those mandated by the laws of their own states. Other targets are being considered, the lobby said.
The TV ads follow a poster recently issued by the lobby that showed photos of nine former members of Congress who were defeated in November because, a lobby spokeswoman said, they opposed limits on congressional terms.
The "Three Terms-You're Out" poster is a warning by U.S. Term Limits to those in Congress who disregard what the lobby says is the desire of more than 80 percent of Americans for term limits.
Twenty-two states, mostly in the West and Midwest, have term-limit laws for their delegations to Congress. But the constitutionality of the laws has been challenged. None of the term-limit laws under discussion would apply limits retroactively to members of Congress.
In the Maryland congressional delegation, few knees are shaking. Maryland is one of 28 states without a law limiting how long someone may serve in Congress.
Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican, described term limits as "demeaning" to the voters.
Maryland's newest member of Congress, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican from Baltimore County, said, "I think enthusiasm for term limits is a reaction to all the ugly things that have happened on Capitol Hill."
He added: "If people would see the kind of turnover there has been here in the last two elections, I think there would be less enthusiasm for term limits."
Of the six Democrats and four Republicans in Maryland's delegation to the House and Senate, only two -- Reps. Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore and Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland, both Republicans -- support term limits.
The House Republicans' "Contract with America" proposes a constitutional term-limit amendment called the Citizen Legislature Act. Speaker Newt Gingrich, who favors allowing House members to serve up to six terms, or 12 years, has said he will fight any attempt to shorten that period. He said he believes it takes an average House member at least six years to become effective.
That stance puts him at odds with U.S. Term Limits, which favors three terms in the House and two six-year terms in the Senate.
That, and the fact that the lobby's TV ads are aimed at four Republicans -- Reps. Martin Hoke and Deborah Pryce of Ohio, Steve Horn of California and David Camp of Michigan -- indicate that the dispute over a constitutional amendment is mostly a squabble between pro-term limits Republicans in Congress and grass-roots activists outside it over what are reasonable limits. Democrats in Congress have generally not spoken out on the issue.
"A six-term limit to most people is no limit at all," Paul Jacob, executive director of U.S. Term Limits, said yesterday. He denounced it as a "Career Congress Bill."
Asked why his group did not focus its TV ads on the House speaker himself, Mr. Jacob said, "I am in no way foreclosing that possibility."
Rep. Bill McCollum, a Florida Republican who is Mr. Gingrich's point man on the issue in the House, defends the speaker's proposed limit. Before the turn of the century, he said, few members remained in Washington beyond five or six years.
By the 1960s and 1970s, he said, the public began to feel that Washington had a "full-time Congress," with politicians staying on longer and longer.