Is Congress Too Small?
With members of Congress so very popular right now in the eyes of the American people -- the latest Gallup poll puts congressional approval at a solid 18 percent -- perhaps the time is right to give the public more of what it loves.
Whether the voters actually want it or not, the argument for a bigger House of Representatives is the basis for a new article by the California-based research center Miller-McCune. Surveying the latest scholarly work, the piece makes the case that House districts now cover so many people that members may not represent their constituents as well as they could, or should.
When the current size of 435 members was established in 1911, each House district covered roughly 200,000 people. Now the average district size is more like 640,000, and the number will keep going up as long as the U.S. population grows without the House growing along with it. Other western democracies like Britain and Germany have larger lower houses of parliament than we do, even though they have far fewer citizens.
So how big should the House be? One study cited in the Miller-McCune piece suggests the chamber could grow by about 50 percent, to 650 members. That would knock each district down to a more manageable 430,000 or so constituents (still more than double the size the districts were the last time the House expanded).
Now, a bigger House might mean lawmakers would be more responsive to helping constituents get their Social Security checks. But would it do a better job on lowering gas prices, dealing with illegal immigration or any of the other tasks that the public currently thinks Congress does terribly? And do angry voters really want a lot more lawmakers making $170,000 per year, airing annoying campaign ads, and finding new ways to become enmeshed in scandals?
Nor does there appear to be a huge appetite on the Hill for such a move. In the 109th Congress, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) introduced a bill "to establish a commission to make recommendations on the appropriate size of membership of the House." The measure picked up just one cosponsor and never even got a committee hearing.
On a selfish level, Capitol Briefing would absolutely LOVE to cover the expansion of the House. As things stand, congressional districts are re-drawn by each state at least once every 10 years following the census, giving governors, state legislators and other political operatives the opportunity to jockey for advantage. Can you imagine the chaos if all of the sudden there were 200-plus new seats to play with?
Unfortunately, Capitol Briefing does not have a vote in the House to help make this happen. Perhaps the 650-member "House of the Future" could include slots for a few bloggers.
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