Blogs » Encumbered By the Thought Process » How to Really Fix Congress


People feel disenfranchised, angry and ignored by their government. This is what the Tea Party movement is about and what Barack Obama's election was all about. Folks perceive that the government is no longer of the people, by the people and for the people. It seems rather to be all about special interests, conservation of political power by incumbent elected officials and those with the money making the rules. Why is this?

I believe the answer is so simple and obvious that no one has really picked up on it because it is so in our faces. Our government is no longer a representative republic, but an oligarchy. Websters defines oligarchy as: "1: government by the few 2: a government in which a small group exercises control esp. for corrupt and selfish purposes; also: a group exercising such control 3: an organization under oligarchic control" How can I say that about the government of the good ol' US of A? Because it is true. Think about it for a minute. Currently the US has a population of about 300 million people. These folks are represented by 100 Senators and 435 Representatives. The Senate is fixed by the Constitution at 2 Senators per state. The house however is fixed by statute. Under this current statute each representative represents approximately 689,655 constituents. How is this truly representative? How does this make for good, rather than corrupt and unresponsive government?

This large a number of constituents per representative is clearly NOT what the Founders had in mind. Article 1 of the original Bill of rights proposed in 1789 which was not adopted--although 10 states ratified it through 1791--better represents the vision of the Founders:

"After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons."

One representative for every 50,000 persons--6,000 Representatives. Think about how that could possibly change the face of our republic. If districts were drawn fairly rather than gerrymandered, every viewpoint or ideology would have a voice in our Congress. We would be transformed from an oligarchy to a real democracy. The stranglehold of the "Republicrats" or if you like the "Demoblicans" would be broken. The power of big money would be weakened as well because the relative value of each Representative would go down in proportion to their increased numbers. It's easier and cheaper to bribe 435 politicians than 6,000 politicians.

The downside of course is the sheer increase in the size of the Congress. The infrastructure of the House would have to be radically expanded which would be both expensive and difficult. And of course there is the objection to "putting more of those bums" in office. And even if we didn't increase the numbers to 1 per 50,000 any increase of representation—say 1 per 200,000—would give the people more voice in the affairs and activities of the government and so decrease the feelings of alienation and anger that are so rampant right now. But whatever the new scheme, it needs to proportional and NOT invested in a fixed number.

How do we change the current representative scheme? Public Law 62-5, passed by the United States Congress on August 8, 1911, set the number of members of the United States House of Representatives at 435 effective with the 63rd Congress in 1913. Since this is a law and not a constitutional amendment all that would be required legislatively would be to pass a new law based on proportional representation rather than a fixed number. However, the reality of political conditions make it far more difficult to do since those in power rarely give it up merely to do the right thing.

This is where the Tea Partiers and the Hope and Change crowd can come together, right now. Rather than constitutionally dubious term limit schemes, come together over increasing representation. That is really the only way for more folks to get their voices actually heard and so feel like they have a stake in the government—like they have ownership of the government that claims to be of the people by the people and for the people.