Precinct 333

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Bigger Congress?

Jeff Jacoby makes an interesting point about the disconnect felt by many people when it comes to their member of Congress. His take on the matter is that there are not enough members.

Divide Iraq's 25 million people by the number of members in the new parliament (275), and the result is one legislator for every 91,000 people. That will make Iraq's government almost exactly as representative as Great Britain's — each member of the House of Commons also represents, on average, about 91,000 citizens. Other democracies are comparable. The ratio for Italy's Chamber of Deputies is 1 to 92,000. For the French National Assembly, 1 to 104,000. For Canada's House of Commons, 1 to 105,000. For Germany's Bundestag, 1 to 136,000.

But in the US House of Representatives, each lawmaker represents, on average, a staggering 674,000 citizens. That makes the "people's house" in Washington one of the least democratic bodies of its kind in the world. No wonder so many Americans feel alienated from Congress. The vastness of their constituencies has turned too many representatives into distant careerists, political moguls with bloated staffs and bloated egos who are more closely attuned to their campaign war chests than to the lives of the people they are supposed to represent.

Term limits would help reconnect members of Congress with their districts, as would an end to blatantly partisan gerrymandering. But there is an even better way to make Congress more democratic: Make it bigger.

Jeff does have a point. If we had representation at the same level as the First Congress, the House of Representatives would consist of some 6000 members. If we used the same ration adopted after the 1790 census, we would have nearly 9000 members. Jacoby suggest that we simply increase the size of the House to somewhere around 1300, or triple the current size. That would make every vote for Congress more important, and allow voters to feel connected to their representative. More to the point, the diversity this would foster would make for a better representation of the view of Americans.

As far as I’m concerned, if we slash Congressional salaries and staff to compensate for the increased size, it might not be a bad idea.


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