In 1970, Burton was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Congress, losing to Democratic incumbent Andy Jacobs. The next term, he ran another unsuccessful campaign, losing in the Republican primary to George Hudnut. Burton was elected to represent Indiana’s 6th District in 1982, defeating Democrat George Grabianowski. He served the 6th District, representing a large portion of eastern Indiana, including Muncie, Richmond, and a few suburbs of Indianapolis until 2002 when the state was redistricted. He would then serve the 5th District, representing the eastern and northern suburbs of Indianapolis, including Marion, Carmel, Shelbyville, Noblesville, and parts of Kokomo until his retirement in 2012.
Throughout his 30-year tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, Burton served on numerous committees, including Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Committee on Veterans Affairs. He served as Chairman of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight from 1997-2002 (105th-107th Congresses).
Most notably, Burton fought tirelessly for autism awareness – to increase research into the causes and new treatments. During his tenure as Chairman of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight and as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness, he held numerous hearings on the topic, including the use of mercury and thimerosal in childhood vaccines. In the realm of foreign policy, Burton worked to strengthen the Cuban embargo, co-sponsoring the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (Helms-Burton Act), which extended the embargo to foreign companies trading with Cuba. From 2003-2007, he also worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass Johanna’s Law, a bill designed to improve early detection of ovarian and other gynecological cancers.
Burton did not seek re-election in 2012 and retired from Congress on January 3, 2013. He was succeeded by Susan Brooks, the former Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Ivy Tech Community College.