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Should members of Congress have term limits?

From NBC's Carrie Dann and Ken Strickland
With over 70 percent of voters saying that they disapprove of the job Congress is doing, it’s not surprising that many of them are itching to “throw out the bums,” as GOP Sen. Jim DeMint put it on NBC's TODAY Show this morning.

But many Americans (including many First Read commenters during this week’s “Exit Interviews” series on the United States Senate) believe that it shouldn’t take an electoral defeat to show members of Congress the door.

They advocate for term limits that would cap the number of years lawmakers can serve on Capitol Hill.

The average length of service for senators this Congress is 12.8 years, just over two terms. It’s a full term longer for the senators who are leaving the chamber at the end of this year. The average length of service of the elected senators who are retiring or who were voted out this year (not including Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who will announce whether or not she will mount a write-in candidacy tomorrow) is 18.8 years.

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback is retiring this year because he limited himself to serving only two full terms. He believes that all senators should follow his example.

"You can find 100 competent people to do these jobs year in, year out," said the Kansas lawmaker in his exit interview with NBC News. "And you ought to have a change of blood and a change of ideas."

Brownback believes that, as senators serve longer, power is consolidated in fewer hands and over time creates a more partisan Congress.

Last year, Brownback joined Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas in proposing an amendment that would cap Senate service at two terms. (Hutchison is currently serving her third term, having failed to win the Republican nomination for governor in her home state in March.)

Term limits are gaining steam as a campaign issue as well. Several successful Tea Party candidates – including Colorado’s Ken Buck, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell – supported the idea during their primary campaigns.

It’s a popular idea. A recent FOX News poll found that almost eight in 10 registered voters said they would like to see a cap put on how long members of Congress can serve.

Brownback, who's now running for Kansas governor, also wants term limits for Supreme Court justices. Members of the high court have served lifetime appointments since the nation’s founding.

Either suggestion presents a steep climb for would-be reformers. Implementing term limits for either senators or justices would mean a constitutional amendment – which would require either a national constitutional convention or the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress.