A Return to a Constitutional House of Representatives

Every law passed by the US Congress for the last 100 years may be null and void  

Congress is a mess and we all know it. Much of the blame for the vast bureaucratic “swamp” in Washington falls on Congress. What no one agrees on is whether Congress can be fixed. If an attempt was made to fix it, how could it be done? Our Founders designed Congress and tampering with what they did could make things worse. 

Oh, but hold on. Congress already tampered with the Founders intent. 

“The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative…” The U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2

Almost a 100 years ago the Congress ignored this clause and capped the number of Representatives at 435. In the years since, Congress has become increasingly separated from the people it is supposed to represent. Currently the average Member of the House represents over 700,000 people. 

Clearly the Congress violated the Constitution when it capped the House at 435 without an amendment. The fact that the Constitution has not been followed or amended means that we have had many illegitimate Congresses, and therefore many illegitimate laws. While it would be foolish to think that all of the laws passed since the House was capped at 435 will actually be declared void, the fact remains that they are illegitimate laws. This situation must be corrected either by following the Constitution, or by amending it. 

Amending the Constitution to preserve the status quo may be the easiest route, but not the best if Congress is to be improved. 

When the Constitution was signed communication was much more difficult than now. One might even argue that keeping the pulse of 700,0000 people now is no more difficult than it was to keep up with 30,000 people back then, but clearly it is not. 30,000 people is a nice size town where a large portion of the people know the candidates, or someone who knows the candidates. 700,000 people is a large city where only a small portion of the population has any kind of personal connection to candidates. The problem then and now is not with the a maximum number of 30,000 people per Representative. 30,000 is a reasonable number. The problem when the law was passed was the large number of Representatives that would be needed to comply with the Constitution. The population of the US in 1929 when the law was passed was over 122 million meaning that if there was to be one Representative per 30,000 inhabitants then there would be over 4,000 Representatives. In 1929 there were no alternatives to meeting in person and no practical way to have 4,000 people in a meeting.

Today, if the Constitution were followed literally the House Of Representatives would have over 10,000 members. California would have around 1200 while Wyoming would have about 20. Today, these numbers are manageable. Modern technology makes it possible to have a virtually unlimited number of Representatives. Using secure technology virtual meetings could be easily held, documents could be distributed rapidly, and voting could be done through a secure system. The members would live in their districts with virtually no staff, except for the Speaker and other leaders. Currently the House apparently has somewhere over 10,000 employees. The effect of this change would be to flip the member and staff numbers. Instead of 435 members and over 10,000 staffers, the House would consist of over 10,000 members and maybe 400 to 500 staffers. Members could work from their home office, or from an office in their district. Required travel to Washington would be paid by the government. House salaries would be set at the median income of their district unless changed by a vote of the district’s population. Clearly the focus of House members would be on their districts since that is where they would live and work. The cost of this larger House would be less than the cost of the current House, and the House would be much more responsive to the public as intended by the Constitution. While all Bills would be voted on by all members, each party in each State delegation would  elect party leaders to attend events like the State of the Union Address, and to represent the State on Committees.

Making this change to the House would have some other benefits. The influence of lobbyists would decrease, and not just because it would be more expensive to corrupt a majority of the House, but also because the Members would be closer to their voters than to the lobbyists and bureaucrats who have such good access now. Gerrymandering is a very unfortunate result of limiting the number of Representatives. Many of the current districts are very strangely drawn and bare no relation to neighborhood, municipal, or county boundaries. Smaller blocks of people would be much harder to gerrymander into odd shapes, and more likely to be made up of people who see themselves as part of a community. 

Many logistical and procedural issues would have to be worked out. Three issues could be more serious problems. This change to 30,000 inhabitants to one Representative would end up benefiting large States, and might be opposed by small states. The second potential problematic issue is the public reaction. The change might not be viewed favorably for many reasons, one being how the media would spin the change. The third problematic issue would be opposition from current House members since most of them would have less clout. These problems could be bypassed and the status quo (435 members) could be preserved with a Constitutional Amendment. But that does not improve Congress or reduce the power of the “swamp”. Some aspects of the 10,000+ member solution outlined above may also require a Constitutional Amendment so it may not be easy to implement either. Compromise may well be necessary to achieve a House that is more accountable to its members, does not hurt small states, slashes the need for so many staffers, is more efficient, cuts back on lobbying, and is manageable. 

Year after year the Congress receives very low approval ratings from the public, and the “swamp” thrives, and yet year after year nothing changes. Making the House larger will increase citizen influence and participation. The change will make the House more accountable to the voters, will reduce costs, reduce the influence of lobbyists, and will reduce gerrymandering. Using the technology we have now enables us to return to the intent of the Constitution and make the House the people’s House as the Founders intended. 

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