How to fix Congress: Make it bigger

Well, specifically, make the House of Representatives’ membership bigger. It’s an interesting idea from NRO’s Jonah Goldberg. The premise is that the Founders did not intend for members of the House to represent so many people as they do now — about 700,000 apiece, on average. Ergo, we need more representatives so that they will better represent the people. (Nothing would change about the Senate’s two-members-per-state arrangement, though numerous people have argued that repealing the 17th Amendment’s direct election of senators would also bring Congress closer to the people.)

Goldberg argues that effectively watering down the House would accomplish what term-limit supporters seek to do, without depriving voters of the right to elect whomever they choose:

The trick is to swamp Congress with new blood and new ideas. Want more minorities in Congress? Done. Want more libertarians? More socialists? More blue-collar workers? Done, done, done.

In free-speech debates, it’s often said that the cure for bad speech is more speech. Well, the cure for a calcified Congress just might be more members; the remedy for an undemocratic system, more democracy.

When you look at the congressional corruption scandals of the last 20 years, it’s hard not to see them as stemming from a system that has, in fact, led to the “permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many.”

If the House were to expand to 1,761 members — as sought in the lawsuit in Mississippi that Goldberg mentions — Georgia would go from having 13 members to having something like 55. Metro Atlanta would have 30 or so representatives. There would be no more districts that stretch from Trenton to Gainesville in the north, or from Valdosta to Savannah in the south. Rather than increasing the amount of pork-barrel spending, Goldberg posits that there would be less: “If there’s not enough for everyone,” he suggests, “nobody can have any.”

He also touches on a topic that interests me and, judging from the comments I’ve seen on here, a number of you: The ills of the two-party system:

I’m not convinced that [ending the two-party system] would be a good thing, but wouldn’t the best way to do that be for smaller parties in Congress to champion fresh new ideas? Rather than have some billionaire egomaniac who, in effect, creates or co-opts a ridiculous third party just so he can indulge his presidential ambitions, why not have third, fourth, or 15th parties test their wares in a smaller political market and build themselves up to where they could field a president?

European countries offer some lessons about the pitfalls of multiparty systems. But if you would like to see a new party supplant one of the two major parties, this is probably the most likely way for that to happen. Of course, Congress is highly unlikely to expand itself; this kind of change would probably require action from the states, something I’ve written about before.

So what do y’all think? Would more members of Congress bring Washington, D.C., closer to the people or farther away, more likely to limit government or expand it?

21 comments Add your comment


October 7th, 2009
10:34 am

Sounds like a great idea to me. The mess we have in districting at this point is laughable.

Hillbilly Deluxe

October 7th, 2009
10:44 am

If you increase the size of Congress, you increase the number of corrupt politicians. Perhaps a prison just for convicted members of Congress?

In my view, George Washington had it firgured out about what political parties would do to this country.

Road Scholar

October 7th, 2009
10:52 am

Increase the House membership would increase the cost of government (they would also need staff), increase the possibility of graft and corruption, increase what is spent on getting elected,dilute the concerted efforts to define and pass legislation,and increase the “talking heads etc.

“European countries offer some lessons…” So why aren’t European ideas on healthcare okay for the US?

Kyle, I thought that the conservatives are for smaller government and states rights? Doesn’t this fly in the face of that mantra?


October 7th, 2009
10:56 am

I like the idea. The downside, of course, is that we now have to pay more people out of taxpayer money, which is in short supply. Actually, we essentially borrow to run govt now.
Other than that, it has its merits.

Road Scholar

October 7th, 2009
10:57 am

Wouldn’t stronger ethics requirements and penalties be better? i.e. If you have an affair, you resign, and pay for the replacement election. If you steal or have unethical dealings, you resign and pay for the election costs? I’m tired of the lying bastards (all parties and both sexes) getting a free ride on the taxpayers backs!

Churchill's MOM

October 7th, 2009
11:05 am

2 straight from the National Review, what else do you read?

Kyle Wingfield

October 7th, 2009
11:07 am

Road Scholar: You’re the front-runner for today’s award for misquotation…what I said was that European countries offer lessons about *the pitfalls* of multiparty systems, of which there are many. Just like the pitfalls of their health systems.

Goldberg argues in effect — I am admittedly doing a bit of interpretation here — that a congressman who represents fewer constituents would need fewer staff members, so there would be a kind of reapportionment of existing congressional staff among the greater number of members. But I agree that that’s not necessarily how things would work out.

As for smaller government, Goldberg’s idea seems to be that smaller districts would yield more responsive representatives — which in theory might yield smaller government. Again, I’m not completely sold; more members of Congress could also mean more busybodies who feel the need to pass laws to justify their existence. As for “states rights,” repealing the 17th Amendment would do more to promote federalism.

Wilson Moore

October 7th, 2009
1:24 pm

On Monday, there was a good article in Roll Call about the 17th Amendment and how it has kept the federal government from being responsive to the needs of citizens. Repealing the 17th seems a better fix than enlarging the House.


October 7th, 2009
1:25 pm

Goldberg has never had a good idea in his life including this one.

All this proposal would do is increase the number of Incumbents by

Michael Honohan

October 7th, 2009
3:22 pm

Two things you have to love here. 1) “Conservatives” who think shrinking goverment has anything to do with the size of the legislature. It does not. Shrinking government refers the Federal beauracracy.

2) “Conservatives” who do not understand the importantance of representation. We need more people in Congress so we have representatives far more responsive to the people. Plus, the more reps, the thinner and thinner the lobbyist have to spread themselves.

From the US Constitution:
“The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand”. Apparently the founding fathers had a different vision. Funny how so many “conservatives” love the US Constitution up to the point that is become inconvenient with their agenda. Like Congress did in 1911. Getting and keeping power has been the major aim of the Republicrat cabal. They bank on the ingorance and stupidity of the partisans while locking out any opposition.

And the rest of you argue like your partisan dogma has any real meaning.


October 7th, 2009
3:34 pm

Why don’t we just tar and feather the Reps we have now? That way we’ll show them that we REALLY mean business and they’ll have to work for us or else……….

Jon but not Jon Voight

October 7th, 2009
3:42 pm

What’s the normal turnout to vote? Usually less than 50% right? So, expanding Congress means more people elected by fewer and fewer voters.

Mutts R Stupid

October 7th, 2009
3:48 pm

Jesus H Christ, Kyle, are you and idiot? We do not need more political royalty running around the country making sweet deals for themselves and their families. What we do need is a one term limit in the house, senate, and white house. Git the good old boys, and the thieves who own them out of power, and hopefully into prison, where the scum belong.


October 7th, 2009
4:06 pm

I have a simple idea, make the congress and senate live by the same rules we do. Like if you are a felon you can’t have this job, there goes 1/3, or forced retirement at 62.5 years old. That would get almost all of them.

Independent Voter

October 7th, 2009
4:27 pm

I concur with Mutts, the last thing we need is more career politicians (elitist controlled by special interest). While term limits would help fix congress, I believe the elimination of political parties and an overhaul of congressional administration rules is the ultimate solution. Too many politician are pressured to follow party lines rather than represent the views of their constituents. The Republican and Democratic parties are being controlled by the radical right/right, in fact it’s difficult for me articulate the difference between the RNC/DNC and the multitude of PACs. U.S. citizens are being hood winked into a bi-polar political environment where one body points to the other to justify their actions/in-actions. In the end no one is held responsible, Too many politicians have become arrogant elitist who manipulate the system with one goal in mind….to get re-elected to their royal thrown!

El Jefe

October 7th, 2009
5:45 pm

You might be close but missing the target.

Don’t make Congress bigger, create regional Congresses and have them appoint members to Congress.

The western states would have their interest seen to, same for the south, midwest and new england.

Say no more than 10 local Congresses.

They would be smaller, established in regional cities and be closer to the people.


October 7th, 2009
6:24 pm

There’s some research–though not without some dispute–that smaller districts increase pork barrel spending. By smaller, I mean not square miles or even people necessarily, but share of total tax base. The rationale is that if each district bears a smaller share of the tax cost of pork then it will want more pork. One manifestation of this mechanism is the propensity of small state (again as a share of the total tax base) senators like Lott, Byrd, and Stevens to be notorious porkers where as Boxer, Feinstein, and other large state senators are not known for being big porkers.


October 7th, 2009
6:43 pm

Frank October 7th, 2009 6:24 pm
“There’s some research–though not without some dispute–that smaller districts increase pork barrel spending.”

Good point.

Brent Bullock

October 7th, 2009
10:09 pm

Repealing 17 is much more needed than expanding the House. State Governments are no longer a discinctly separate power-broker in the Federal City. The Founding Patriots had the balance of power clearly divided in the Federal Legislature prior to 17 – now the same influences pervade both the Upper and Lower Chamber. Repeal 17!!

stands for decibels

October 8th, 2009
3:48 pm

I should pop over here more often. I actually tend to agree with this idea, have for some time, and it may be the first time I’ve agreed with Jonah on anything.

(I recall first seeing this idea trotted out in a New Republic piece, probably ten-plus years ago, for what that’s worth.)

Now if we could just defang that anti-small-D-democratic institution, the Senate, we’d be on to something. But that’s another issue.


October 10th, 2009
8:30 pm

Jonah Goldberg? The guy who thinks all dems are facists? Showing your true colors Kyle?

I bet the US Navy naming a ship after that rabble-rousing community organizer Medgar Evers must really stick in your craw, Kyle. And it was a white man, and a southern politician at that, (although a dem, of course) that named the ship after Evers. Oh, the horror. First, Obama gets the Nobel Peace Price and then a navy ship named after Medgar Evers.

I feel the vapors coming on.