Today on CNN, Brian Flynn proposes to make Congress more representative by making it bigger. A lot bigger:
House of Representatives was established as the lower house, intended to be of the people, according to James Madison. It was to ensure that individual citizens had a voice in federal legislation while the Senate was meant to be more deliberative and represent the interest of the states. But population growth has cut the ties between representatives and those they represent. A seat in the House of Representatives has gone from representing 33,000 people to more than 700,000 today. America basically has two upper houses of Congress with less and less representation of the people.
The founders envisioned population growth and proposed a maximum ratio of 1 per 50,000, which today would produce a Congress of slightly more than 6,000 members.
Lets assume they were off by 100%, and we might envision a Congress with 1 member per 100,000 people or 3,000 members. As points of comparison, a constituency in the U.K. House of Commons is roughly 90,000 people, and the Iraqi government that the U.S. helped establish is at 100,000 people per representative. Yes, thats right: today Iraqs legislature is seven times more representative than our federal government.
While Flynn should be given credit for outside-the-box thinking, a 3000 person Congress is still probably too large to operate as an effective body. The House of Commons, contains only 685 members. Its higher ratio of representatives to represented is due to its smaller population rather than to its larger legislature. In fact, the only nations with legislatures the size Flynn suggests are China and Libya, which are hardly beacons of democracy in action.
There is, however, another more practical way to achieve Flynn’s goal. Currently there are 7382 state legislators elected in the United States, of whom 5411 belong to a lower chamber. While the ratio of voter to elected representative varies from state to state, all of them are much closer to the people than are any of the elected representatives in Congress (New Hampshire has one representative for every 3,295 residents, which may factor into why it doesn’t have a state income tax or a state sales tax). If Flynn is right that decreasing the number of people an elected official represents would make them more responsive and accountable as legislators, then the simplest way to do this is to return to the states legislative authority that has been increasingly usurped by the central government.