Consequences of a Broken Congress   Leave a comment

Amending the Constitution to change the structure of the House of Representatives is a complex topic.

The framers of the Constitution envisioned congressional districts that were relatively small (about 60,000 people per each), equivalently sized across the nation in keeping with the one-person-one-vote principle. Federalists #55 and #56 explicitly promised there would be one Representative for every 30,000 inhabitants. Congress became larger as the country grew in population until Congress fixed the total number of Representatives at 435 in 1913. The size of Congress is not regulated in the Constitution, but is an arbitrary number chosen by Congress.

Today, the average district size is approximately 700,000 per Representative and instead of being proportionately sized throughout the United States, some House districts are nearly twice the size of others. This is an egregious violation of the one-person-one-vote principle that comes with adverse consequences.

  • The average tenure of Representatives serving in the 108th Congress (2003-2005) was 10.2 years.
  • Tellingly, of all the Representatives in the 108th Congress who sought reelection to the 109th, over 97% won.
  • Yet Congress has an approval rating of less than 10%.

It would seem that, once elected, Representatives become virtually undefeatable, even if their performance in office is mediocre or incompetent. This is because candidates representing large districts can present different faces to different constituents without getting caught (usually) rather than taking principled stands. The diverse views and values of Americans are not being represented by those elected to the House.

The growth of super-sized districts means that most Representatives spend the last year of their two-year term campaigning for reelection rather than spending time on their primary responsibilities of reading legislation and providing constituent services. Except for a few independently wealthy individuals, election campaigns in super-sized districts require that Representatives solicit considerable sums of money on a nearly continuous basis, creating the appearance (and probably the actuality) of corruption while fostering a dependence on lobbyists and other special interests for campaign funds.

Another, often overlooked, consequence (highlighted in the Netflix series House of Cards) is that the President and Vice-President are indirectly elected via the Electoral College, the size of which is mostly a function of the number of House Representatives. The smaller the Electoral College, the less likely it will reflect the popular vote, which may explain the last four Presidential elections and will become a greater issue with each election in the future.

Citizens are gradually becoming estranged from the federal government. Whether it is because we feel disconnected or because of other cultural issues, we fail to vote at increasingly alarmingly high rates. Low voter turnout creates a political vacuum that is frequently filled by mobilized fringe interest groups which exert an inordinate influence over election outcomes.

The purpose of the federal House was not only to represent the citizenry, but to protect us from the government, but the House of Representatives has devolved into a virtual oligarchy.

What do we do about that?

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