Is Congress Too Small?
Frankly, with all the problems I have with Congress, the last thing I had thought about was it’s size. Remember that any freely elected legislative body needs to be two seemingly contrasting things at once. One one hand, passing laws needs to be a sufficiently difficult process to keep them from writing into law every damn-fool thing that pops into a members head. While on the other hand, lawmaking needs to be just barely easy enough to make the legislature responsive to public demands and needs. Our two house system is arguably the best that has ever been designed to satisfy these two requirements. While the semi-hereditary House of Lords in England is undemocratic by its nature, it’s slow death has only harmed the English people by making the government far too likely to have knee jerk reactions. A better idea would probably have been to restructure it to allow for the election of Lords for comparatively long terms (that’s as opposed to those with certain hereditary or ecclesiastical titles holding all the seats).
Now to talk about our own charnal house. (A charnal house holds dried up old bones no one wants to claim, found when digging new graves, an excellent comparison if I do say so myself.)
First, the Senate. I don’t think the Senate is too small. I think it’s exactly the right size. Excepting that I would prefer the direct election of senators to be halved so half are elected in statewide election and the other half elected by the state legislatures, the Senate has simply always been intended to be smaller to allow for more deliberation. The filibuster rule while sometimes infuriating is one of the best things it has going for it. 60 votes to shut off debate is not an unreasonable speed-bump to place in the way of sausag- lawmaking.
Now the House. What a disaster. I don’t know what to do with this monster. I’m not going to make a complete list of grievances, they are too numerous, but I’ll toss out a few big ones.
1. While rapid turnover was intended and a positive, I wonder if there isn’t something that could be done to both allow that and restrict it in a minor way. One thing might be to make every other term 4 years. That would bring a little less rapid turnover, but still leave plenty. That isn’t a complete thought, I just made it up about 10 seconds ago, but it’s a start. Might be an awful idea, I haven’t thought about it enough to decide. (we’d squeeze a small cost savings out of this too, local governments are on the hook for the cost of elections)
2. Line Item Veto. This isn’t a House issue per-say, and I am against it although it would result in cost savings, but I could accept permitting Congress to determine what the president could and could not veto out of an overall bill. That is supposed to be the limit of the presidents influence in the legislative process. A straight line item veto essentially adds a 3rd house of congress consisting of only the president, and I’ll never support handing the executive the ability to essentially rewrite legislation. A restricted line item veto, the limits or complete exclusion of which would continue to allow tons of things to be lumped together in bill, (saves lots of time and money) and become a useful bargaining chip when one party demands something the other doesn’t want. Just allow Congress to decide upon that venerability on a bill to bill basis.
3, Size may in fact be the biggest problem with the House and like I said, I have never given it much thought. It’s not that it’s too big, it actually may not be big enough! I won’t bother looking it up, but I think each rep is responsible for something on the order of 700,000 people, soon to be well over a million. Perhaps we need to cut that down a bit by adding more reps. That would lead to a greater diversity of ideas because of more members and also reduce the workload and number of offices the government has to pay for for each house member. If we were to cap constituencies at 500,000 or so and increase the numbers of reps, that might pay off with a more responsive legislature.
4. I’ve never liked the idea of term limits in legislatures. That would be a system where you have good people being elected, but termed out when their voters would like to reelect them. I have a neat idea for this one. Require a majority win in the previous election in order to run for a third or fourth and so on. Imagine you have been elected to congress with 46% of the vote. Then, imagine that in the next election you get the same 46%. After that, you are not eligible to run for election until after what would have been your third term. This would also encourage the states to move to an instant, or some other kind of, runoff election.
I may update this if I think of anything else.