Sunday, April 02, 2006

Getting the representation back into representative government

Note, that this is a cross-post of material originally presented in Dumb Looks Still Free. Some tidying of paragraphs has been done, but all spellling and such is left as-is.

One of the stumbling blocks is Article 1, Section 5 of the US Constitution which says, in paragraph 4:

"Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting."
And Article 1, Section 6, paragraph 1:

"The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place."
But these occur after Article 1, section 2, which says in part:

"The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative."
And finally, Section 2 of Amendment XIV:

"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,* and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State." *Changed by section 1 of the 26th amendment.

Public Law 62-5 which fixes the size of the House of Representatives is codified under 2 USC 2 by 37 Stat 13: "Section, act Aug. 8, 1911, ch. 5, Secs. 1, 2, 37 Stat. 13, 14, fixed composition of House of Representatives at 435 Members, to be apportioned to the States therein enumerated. For provisions dealing with reapportionment of Representatives and manner of election, etc., see sections 2a and 2b of this title."

Ah, now what am I getting at with the above? Well the 1:30,000 rule is the point.
Others have pointed this out before, but it does bear repeating that the Size of the House of Representatives is set... by the House of Representatives! I notice that the folks that are trying to move this forward have an empty section on their website for what the size of the House should be. The arguments for a representative House come from the representational language and intent of the Constitution. By having the House set its own size, it effectively disenfranchises fractional accounting of population in each State of the United States. And that is not what representative government is all about as put forth in the Constitution. But size, that is always the catching point, isn't it?

And the follow-on language indicates that there shall be a physical *place* for each House. But I also notice that the House currently uses an electronic voting system that does *not* require Representatives to actually be in the physical *place* to vote. That physical place is one where arguments are made, administrative work accomplished and many a speech made to an empty chamber performed. For ceremonial events that *place* is used and fully packed, but beyond that the full House rarely sits in attendance to carry on its work. In other words, for the transactional business of the House of Representatives you must have a *place*, but the actual voting can take place from *anywhere* so long as there is validation and security of the voting system.

Now, the way things have gone I don't believe that anyone has actually tested the constitutionality of the current system the House of Representatives has in place. A quick court case could easily find this out and my guess is that the courts would rule that the constitution gives leeway to the House to decide how to run its day-to-day operations. So, I will take that for a given.

The current 2000 census roundup for the USA can be found here: 293,655,404.
So divide the population by 435 and you have: 675,070. Yes, in theory each Representative in the House of Representatives in the USA (on average) represents 675,000 people.
Lets have a look at the number of staff for the 435 Representatives: "Representatives' staff allowances can be used to hire up to 18 permanent and four non-permanent aides divided between the members' Washington and district offices." (From the Congressional Deskbook) Now each committee is allowed a staff of 30, but that is needed to keep them going, not individual Representatives. So you end up with a maximum staff of 22 for Representatives or 9570 staffers.

Now through all of this, what does one get the feeling of happening at the House of Representatives? Each Representative (except those At-Large representing a single state) is unlikely to ever meet even a fraction of their constituents. Second, you, as a taxpaying citizen, are more likely to get flacked by a staffer for any inquiries and generally be handled by that staff and not get personal attention. Third, and most importantly, the individual Representative is insulated from the actual people being represented.

This is definitely *not* what the founders intended, nor is it a very good way to run a representative democracy. Something feels severely out of whack, here... until you do the final calculation. Add the number of Congressmen (435) to that of their staff (9570)(total 10,005) and divide that result into the population of the USA (293,655,404) and you get: 1 per 29,351! Yes, the good old 1:30,000 rule that the founders set up looks dead on to me, save that most of those folks are staff, not Congressmen. My guess is that you are now piecing it together.

So, first off, lets say that there is a short and sweet Constitutional Amendment to change Article 1 Section to read:
"The Number of Representatives shall be (replacing 'not exceed')one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative."
Further add in that Representatives will not be appropriated money for individual staff members save for the current Committee Staff size for the 109th Congress.

This would increase the total number of Congress up to: 9789 (give or take a few). Yes the amount of space needed for this Congress would be SMALLER than its current size for members and staff included. The staff for each member of Congress: 0. Yes, a goose egg! If that member can not keep in touch with 30,000 people and learn to network with his or her colleagues, then perhaps those people should vote in someone who can effectively use electronic capabilities. As these folks can currently vote electronically this New House can very well pass a rule to allow a member all rights and privileges due them from an office in their home or apartment. Finally the new Congress can designate either a way to attend official functions by lot and can be sworn in on the grounds of the Capitol building if need be. In dire emergencies they might very well designate a sporting or events arena if the whole House needs to meet.

The benefits of this Amendment have been discussed elsewhere, but let me put in some of the less than obvious ones:

  1. Smaller and easier to understand legislation. In the age of Google, one should be able to go through the entire Federal budget pretty quickly. But, for any bill to have a chance of actually *passing* it will need a majority that will not want to be bothered with huge, pork laden bills. The interrogative is: How many Congressmen does it take to reveal pork? The answer: 1. Out of 9789 what is the chance that absolutely all of them will just give 'a wink and a nod to pork' spending? Then answer: 0.0000% A huge House of Representatives spells the end to Omnibus spending packages. If a member or group of members cannot clearly and easily set out a bill so as to be quickly understood by their peers, it is likely to fail.

  2. The Federal Budget will actually get some oversight. With this many Congressmen it becomes relatively easy to sign up one or more to oversee the budget of a particular Agency within a Department. While seniority may still account for something, there will be so many Congressmen that it will be nearly impossible to concentrate power in a few committees. Take 19 committees and divide that into such a Congress and one soon sees the general committee members as purely functionary to keep things moving while the real budget work is done by individual members. Any Agency that cannot clearly and easily explain line items to a member of Congress will soon find such line items struck out. And every two years, the entire thing gets shaken up as Senior members will soon run through their positions and need to give them up to more junior members. Hiding something in the budget becomes a near impossibility.

  3. The Senate will dread reconciliation bills. And any Senator that seeks to use their privilege to stop things up or amend bills from the House, will be faced with a pretty large group staring him or her down. Congressional pet projects will face the scrutiny of 10 or 50 or more Congressmen.

  4. Lawyers may get swept off the streets in the first Congress or so, but there will also be a number of ordinary individuals that are not lawyers, who are respected by their communities and will carry their voice to Congress. As soon as that number becomes noticeable, say 10%, and consistently votes against complex or over-lawyered language, the challenge to simplify language and concepts will be a functional necessity.

  5. Give each member of Congress 10 pages of the Tax Code to review and markup. Have such markups put on a general website with reasons behind them. Give members a month to review the Tax Code. Expect it to drop from 68,000 pages very quickly. Or expect Congress to enact a simple Tax that everyone can easily understand.
I wish I had the health to get involved in something like this!

As it is, just another idea that I am expanding upon, but really can't do much about.

2 comments:

quidam said...

There is an educational web site devoted entirely to this subject (i.e., our number of federal Representatives). For more information, please visit: http://www.thirty-thousand.org;
also see the following links:
http://www.thirty-thousand.org/pages/Why_435.htm
http://www.thirty-thousand.org/pages/QHA-04.htm

A Jacksonian said...

Quidam - My thanks!

Linked to them within my article, top of their site.

My rationale for this was done separately, but along parallel lines... I look at it from the 'can this work?' concept along with 'what the hell do they need that staff for?' idea. Seems we have enough folks to handle the calls of representatives, unfortunately they are unelected staff....