Sunday, March 03, 2013

A thought about the Congress of the USA

The number of senators is set in the Constitution at 2 per state. Thus the Congress began with 11 states and 22 Senators and increased over time to 100 senators representing 50 states.

Congress began with 59 representatives in the House of Representatives. The number of members of the House increased as the population of the United States increased until it was capped at 435 in 1911 (with a temporary increase with the admission of Hawaii and Alaska as states). (Reference)

In the early days of the Union, the number of representatives per senator was less than 3; today it is more than 4.

Congressional staff has expanded. Not only does does it include personal staff for each senator and representative, but also committee staffs and staff for the leadership.

The Legislative Branch of the U.S. government also includes a number of agencies such as the Library of Congress (which includes the Congressional Research Service), the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Printing Office and the Government Accountability Office.

The overall cost of the Congress and its offices is on the order of four and one-half billion dollars per year.

The Congress has been dysfunctional. Perhaps it should be changed in structure.


First, the system is not democratic. As the graph above shows, some representatives in the House represent more than 800,000 people while others represent fewer than 600,000. In the election of the president, the situation is worse since the electoral college includes votes equal to the number senators and representatives for each state.

How about a Constitutional Amendment that sets the number of senators at one per state and sets the number of representatives at 300. This would reduce the number of people in each body, presumably making each more efficient. It would lead to larger districts for each representative, presumably making it harder for a minority faction of a single party to dominate the elections in districts.

The allocation of House seats to each state might continue using the current process, but we now have computers. How about making each representative's vote in the House and each senator's vote in the Senate count according to the portion of the number of eligible voters of the nation that live in his/her district/state.

The California system of non-partisan commission definition of the district boundaries after each census seems worthy of replication. I would also like to see popular election of presidents; a step in the right direction would be an electoral college composed as is suggested above with each state given the number of electors equal to its number of senators and representatives, but with the vote of each elector corresponding to the proportional number specified above.

I doubt we could get the Congress to vote for this nor could we get the small states to ratify it, but I think we need to do something!

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