The actions of Congressman Massie to force a physical floor vote of stimulus vote were labelled 3rd rate grandstanding by the Tweeter-in-Chief. I believe Massie felt a real patriotic duty to slow the stimulus train. We are talking about over two trillion dollars here and much of the urgency seemed to be driven by the state of the Dow Jones. However, the fact the Congress was able to push through such a massive bill without physical presence being required says something about the 21st century. We are there. Virtual government is possible. Technology can now make the vision of the founders of this country even more real.
The House of Representatives was meant to be the People’s House. Despite popular belief, technically, America is not a democracy, but rather a representative republic. That means that the representatives, who are democratically elected over set periods, do the business of government as representative proxies. At the beginning of the republic, to get each of the states to sign on to the new Constitution, each was given two votes in the Senate no matter the size of their populations, thereby making sure that each state was equal in that representative body. However, for America to be a true representative republic there had to be a legislative body that was based upon population. That body became the House of Representatives.
As the population of the country increased, the number of representatives was supposed to also increase through decennial reapportionment based upon the census. Every ten years the census would drive the adjustments and this was done regularly over the first century and a half of this nation. However in the early twentieth century, the United States government abandoned the principle of proportionally equitable representation. Prior to the twentieth century, the number of representatives increased every decade as more states joined the union and the population increased. However, the twentieth century brought something different.
In 1911, Public Law 62-5 raised the membership of the House of Representatives to 433 with a provision to add one permanent seat each upon the admissions of Arizona and New Mexico as states. As provided, membership increased to 435 in 1912. However, in 1921, Congress failed to reapportion the House membership as required by the United States Constitution after the decennial census. Then, in 1929, Congress passed the Reapportionment Act of 1929, which capped the size of the House at 435. The count has been stuck at this 435 number ever since.
Freezing the count has led to inadequate representation. This inadequate representation has only become more inadequate as time as gone on. Two states have been added, since the Reapportionment Act of 1929 and yet the count has stayed at 435! This arbitrary ceiling not only ignored new states, but also ignores the fact that the nation’s population has increased rapidly. Despite the population increase, the membership of the House of Representatives has stayed static for a century. If Washington, DC no longer seems to represent the will of the people. It is because it does not.
The current size of 435 seats means one member represents on average about 650,000 people; but exact representation per member varies by state. Four states — Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota — have populations smaller than the average for a single district. This one situation, that these low population states get better per capita representation in the House of Representatives than high population states, should be enough to call for a revamp of the size of the House of Representatives. The Senate’s two seat per state configuration serves the small states, but the House is where the populous states are supposed to have more representation, not less.
Many would argue that the current size of the House is one of practicality. They would argue that increasing the number of members would create chaos and nothing would ever be done in Congress. Other democracies seem to get by with more than 435 members without chaos ensuing. The House of Commons in Britain, which was one of the first people’s bodies in the Western world, has more than six hundred members.
Another great western democracy, Germany, has more than six hundred members in its Bundestag. These parliamentary bodies serve populations that are one- fifth the size of the American population. If Americans had similar representation, there would be three thousand members in the House. Without question, the United States has fallen behind the curve of representative democracy.
The population increase that has occurred since the early twentieth century warrants change in the size of the House, but it is not the only reason. The actual number of eligible voters doubled immediately with women receiving the vote in 1920. Certainly, it seems the freezing of the House of Representatives was meant to blunt the power of women’s suffrage. The census results meant in 1921 resizing of the House should have occurred, but Congress simply ignored this deadline. Then in 1929, they froze the size of the House of Representatives. Why?
Certainly, this freezing seems to be a purposeful attempt to dilute representation given the timing of the freeze. After all, doubling the number of voters should have justified doubling the number of representatives to something approaching one thousand seats. The objection that more than 435 would be impossible to manage is no longer tenable in the twenty-first century.
The ability to pass the two trillion dollar stimulus bill over Representative Massie’s objections means the last reasonable objections to increasing the size of the House are no longer valid. Technology has advanced to the point that video conferencing is a viable option. Additionally, the amount of Congressional staff each representative has is a clue to what the true size of the House of Representatives should be. If these non-elected staffers were limited, it would free up quite a bit of space for real representatives of the people as well as the money to pay them.
Libertarian-Socialism advocates an initial doubling of the size of the House of Representatives. This would be achieved by bisecting all current districts. Libertarian-Socialism further advocates increasing the House membership by 50 percent in five-year intervals leading to next census. Forcing a smaller ratio of people-to-representative will lead to more than two thousand House members. That is a big number, but the United States would thus begin to immunize the House of Representatives from the corruptions of money. With so many votes to swing a majority, it would become ever more impractical to influence the House via lobbyist money.
There would also be an increase in the number of voices that could be heard on the national stage. America has stagnated. The solutions to the nation’s problems seem insoluble only because of the narrowness of the vision of those in politics today. This narrow vision is directly related to the freezing of the House that has disenfranchised the individual voter. Indeed, for there to be an electable third party, or even a fourth party, this House expansion must happen. The House increase would begin the process of giving new political voices an opportunity to be heard. This is why the duopoly of Democrats and Republicans will fight tooth and nail for the status quo.
An increase in the size of the House of Representatives is also an organic obstacle to gerrymandering. Gerrymandering leads to extreme views at the political representative level. Extreme views are required to win the gerrymandered districts. The smaller districts of an expanded House are harder to gerrymander. The smaller districts make irregular shapes an exception rather than the rule.
The process of electing national leaders is awash in money and corrupted by it. Americans know this, and campaign reform is regularly on the national agenda. However, no matter what laws are passed, real reform escapes the nation. Increasing the size of House of Representatives means it will take much more money to control voting majorities in a House with many hundreds of new members. Increasing the size of the House will bring about a kind of campaign reform along with all the other aforementioned benefits of the appropriate per capita representation for the people.
The United States may have to build a new legislative building, but that is no reason to listen to Democrats and Republicans whine about their lost duopoly. Spending money on this new larger House of Representatives is an intelligent use of funds. It is an honest investment in representation. An investment in a game-changing vision to return the United States to the citizens. Investment to help the people, especially women, to take their rightful place in the leadership, helps us all.
Excerpted from the book ->