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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Should Congress be bigger? MUCH bigger?

   
Author Topic: Should Congress be bigger? MUCH bigger?
Lyrhawn
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My brother sent me this article earlier today, which contains a link to a NYT article from last year that discusses the same issue.

The issue is expanding Congress. The size of the House of Reps has been virtually frozen in place for 90 years, which means every time the population grows, it becomes less representative, as each rep represents more and more people.

What do you think of a House of Reps that has a thousand members? How do we solve the problem of a Congress with overwhelming incumbency rates but historically low approval ratings? We're a nation full of people who hate everything but what our own personal rep is doing. Would a larger Congress lead to more diverse political offerings? Right now, gathering the requisite number of politicians to get a bill passed is hard only from a political view, not a numerical one. It used to be ridiculously easy. But would the process be better if there were a lot more of them? Caucuses would be harder to control by party bosses. Gerrymandering would be incredibly difficult as well, without large populations to hem voters in and dilute their vote.

But even more so, might we get more third party votes? If third party candidates, and non-traditional candidates, wanted to get involved, the would have much less physical space to actually cover. Canvassing a space that holds 100,000 people is far more feasible than 700,000. It makes interacting with voters actually possible. In a a series of town halls, a rep could actually hope to meet with a decent portion of them, and organizing the voters of any district wouldn't be a herculean task. And as I said, if someone other than a Democrat or Republican wanted to get into the race, their entrance barrier would be significantly lessened. If it doesn't require massive resources, they could target smaller neighborhoods with volunteers and one on one conversations and maybe actually get elected.

Furthermore, PACs would have less power, because they would simply have too many bases to cover. Looking at any major city, where you might have three or four reps covering a large city, now you might have three dozen. Even the Koch brothers would be hardpressed to carpet bomb a city with dozens of individual ads, you'd have to either openly campaign for a party rather than a candidate, pick and choose your battles, or wildly spend out of control to try and cover all bases, which just isn't feasible at most media market prices.

Would it be too unwieldly? Well, as the article states, it's hard to see how it can get any more dysfunctional than it already is, and obviously, 3,000 or even 1,000 Congressmen aren't going to fit into the Capitol as it stands. But given how few times the chamber is actually filled to capacity, I don't really see why that's a big deal. I like the idea of getting them out of Washington and away from K Street lobbyists who can schmooze them with expensive dinners and freebies. Lobbyists simply would not have the time or the money to try and bribe THAT MANY people. They'd be buried by sheer numbers.

The way I see it, the government is too small to work for regular people, but PERFECT for a two-party system dominated by the media and corporate interests. If we blow it up, make it huge, make it too large for corporations and special interests to pick off members one by one, we can bury them in sheer numbers without losing anything.

Small states would lose out a little bit, but that's not really a problem near as I can tell. The Senate was invented to make sure they'd have an equal say in one house of Congress, but their disproportionate power at the moment in the House runs counter to the purpose of the lower chamber. So I can't really say I'd shed a tear over it.

So yea or nay to a bigger Congress? Let's quibble less over the likelihood of it actually happening and talk about the pros and cons as you see them.

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Blayne Bradley
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I support this plan, possibly as a hypothetical thrid house that uses mixed member proportional.

But yeah, expanding congress would be a good idea, less gerrymandering more third party votes, more regional views.

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Vadon
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My family likes to talk about these sorts of ideas as casual dinner topics. My father supports returning to 1 representative for every 30,000 citizens. That would mean we'd have about 10,500 representatives in the house. He also supports not having the house of representatives meet in Washington DC, changing the rules so that representatives stay in their districts and vote through electronic means. If nothing else it would certainly make committees a more interesting place. I just am left to wonder what bills, if any, could get through committee if you drastically increase the number of members in each committee.

My father and brother also support repealing the 17th amendment which makes US senators selected by popular vote. They'd prefer that they be selected by the state legislatures again. My father's argument is that when the senators don't have to worry about re-election, special interest money won't be a factor in their re-election campaign. My brother's argument is that by empowering the state legislatures with this responsibility, it will encourage voters to be more cognizant of their state-level representatives. I remain unconvinced on both counts.

Finally, my brother supports (and I'm inclined to agree with him on this one) making the Presidential primary calender decided according to states with the largest voter turnout in the general election. If your state has a larger percent turnout, then you are placed earlier in the calendar.

My family is, in all, pretty supportive of drastic changes to the system. I'm much more of a piecemeal solutions guy myself. Find a problem, address it as it comes, adjust the system where necessary.

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Jeff C.
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I'm actually curious about what would happen if we made it smaller. There's so much bickering and division among the representatives nowadays. The less people you have, the more gets accomplished, right? I'm not saying we need a monarchy or anything, but it would be very interesting to see what happened if you cut their ranks in half.
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BlackBlade
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Fewer people means more power with the individual to block the others. The House was always supposed to be closer to the people, while the Senate was the check on populist insanity. Nowadays the House is a rabid den of frothing madmen, and the Senate are caught up with trying not to look weak by comparison. More representatives also means it's easier for more coalitions and parties to form, and I'm a big fan of this.
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Finally, my brother supports (and I'm inclined to agree with him on this one) making the Presidential primary calender decided according to states with the largest voter turnout in the general election. If your state has a larger percent turnout, then you are placed earlier in the calendar.
That's an intriguing idea I've never heard before. It's perhaps the only method of incentivizing voter participation that doesn't involve mandates and penalties. It still disadvantages some states over others...but not perversely so.
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Samprimary
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I have few ideas about what could be done to fix congress. I don't know if size increases have enough of a motivating incentive to prioritize over other things like anti-gerrymandering laws and changes to senate procedural law and the removal of filibustering. (these notions offered without regard to their likelihood)

But, hey, maybe. Congress has become such a mess that I stopped even analyzing them as anything other than an intransigent husk that is so deeply flawed and useless as to necessarily and tragically result in compensation via grotesquely expanded executive power.

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Lyrhawn
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Gerrymandering and the filibuster are at least stuff a lot of people know about. It's something we discuss all the time, and most people seem to be in favor of doing away with. Some states are implementing independent non-partisan commissions to control redistricting.

It's unlikely that any of this stuff gets changed without a major grass roots push. People in power at the moment simply have no incentive to give any of it up, and almost every one of these reforms means a loss of power.

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The Pixiest
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More people means more "Scratch my back I'll scratch yours."

Imagine 1000 people all scrambling to get their slice of the pie for their district. 3 times as many bridges to no where... bleah.

On the other hand, if you could somehow eliminate this kind of vote trading it would be wonderful because it would slow things down and make it harder to pass the nonsense that gets pooped out by our lawmakers on a regular basis... but I don't see how you'd manage that...

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Blayne Bradley
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Because of the Calculation Problem, the more people you have the harder it becomes for one deal to satisfy a larger coalition of people, and with more parties represented then the less incentive there is for block voting and more incentive for coalitions, less pendantic arguing and more focus on substance allowing for committees to handle the details.

You are if I recall, heavily leaning Libertarian, which means government inherently doesn't work and to an extant means we shouldn't bother to fix it seems to be the going opinion of most I've spoken to, if reasonably convinced that while still imperfect a proposed reform would be more likely to make government more fair and presentative of the popular will, even if it still passes statist laws, would you feel it is the solution with the most utility?

Canada, my country has no where near the dysfunction and brokenness as the US Congress, partly I feel this is because of the success of third parties in raising their voice and getting their agenda considered (and I think less gerrymandering, I don't recall the ridings changing very often).

The goal isnt to get government that can't pass anything, but a government that represents the people and works regularly and not in a broken clock twice a day sense.

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BlackBlade
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There's also the problem of paying the salaries of that many representatives all of whom would want to be paid the "standard wage for a representative".
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Blayne Bradley
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Honestly thats negligable. Its what? 200k a year?
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Vadon
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quote:
Originally posted by Blayne Bradley:
Honestly thats negligable. Its what? 200k a year?

That's just for the representative. They also have legislative assistants, legislative coordinators, and other office staff. And if we had a lot more representatives, oddly enough, I'd think that to manage through the sheer volume of proposals in committees, representatives would need even more staff to handle the increased load.

Don't get me wrong, it's just a drop in the bucket of the federal budget and I personally wish that our representatives and DC staffers would get paid more. But it's not just 200k per representative.

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Blayne Bradley
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Regardless it still doesn't seem like all that much of a cost for a non broken political system...
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I Used to Be a Drummer
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quote:
Originally posted by Blayne Bradley:


Canada, my country has no where near the dysfunction and brokenness as the US Congress, partly I feel this is because of the success of third parties in raising their voice and getting their agenda considered (and I think less gerrymandering, I don't recall the ridings changing very often).


Canada works better for several reasons.

1. Less money and power=less vicious infighting, as well as less incentive for corruption.

2. Canada has almost no black population, so the problems between the races are weakened. There's not NEARLY as much of an issue of a "race underclass"...Basically, the more racially homogeneous a society is, ON AVERAGE, the easier it is for people to get along, share the wealth, and not try to screw over the "other guys".

Yes, I know Canada has an increasing foreign-born population, but many/most of those are aspiring entrepreneurs and/or advanced degree-holders, NOT people born into a broken subculture that is held down by race hatred (in both directions) and lowered expectations.


3. Canada was also not formed by "Europe Haters" as much. This means that intelligent ideas that European governments have can be implemented more easily, instead of meeting opposition sheerly because of the stink of "European-ness".

4. The useful ideas that Socialism has are much harder to implement in a racially/culturally diverse society. Therefore, you get extreme clinging to Capitalism. This Capitalism is basically thinly-veiled racism. This isn't as much of an issue in Canada, because the race-based class division issue isn't nearly as large there.

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Lyrhawn
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Isn't like one fifth of Canada's population non-white? They have a large population of Asians, and for that matter, a rather sordid racial history with black Canadians out West, where there were riots every bit as vicious as those that too place in America.

Regardless, the politics of race in America are a tiny, TINY part of why the government doesn't work, but a HUGE part of why the nation doesn't work. There's a big difference.

Pixiest -

You want to slow things down even more than they currently are? Literally nothing would ever get passed, as little at the moment gets passed as it is. Maybe you're one of those people that just wants to blow up the government, in which case you have no vested interest in making government work better, you just want it to go away, but I'm far more interested in workable reforms.

We don't need MORE government. We don't need LESS government. We just need smart government.

Vote trading and deal making will ALWAYS happen. It's the very nature of politics, it has been for thousands of years. I think the idea is to make it far less damaging and destructive. But I think you'll find that the ear marks part of it, bringing home the bacon, is actually diluted. Fewer constituents to please means less money to bring home. Plus, I think incumbency rates under this system would be MUCH more volatile. People wouldn't stay in Congress long enough to wield the power necessary to move that kind of money.

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dabbler
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I like the idea of the house members staying in their home town. Increase the numbers to 30k per rep or 100k per rep.?Turn it into a part time job. Cut down drastically on the number of staffers paid by the govt. It really seems like most of their hours "working" are really useless these days. Have proposed bills posted online with forums for the reps to talk to each other in. Make it a publicly viewable forum but only reps have the ability to post. Amendments can be added with quick up/down votes. Get rid of filibustering.
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Lyrhawn
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I like some of the idea of transparency in debate. Mandating they participate is tricky. CSPAN is a great idea except it's just a series of blustering speeches, they never actually engage each other. But mandating debates of some sort could be interesting.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by The Pixiest:
More people means more "Scratch my back I'll scratch yours."

Imagine 1000 people all scrambling to get their slice of the pie for their district. 3 times as many bridges to no where... bleah.

On the other hand, if you could somehow eliminate this kind of vote trading it would be wonderful because it would slow things down and make it harder to pass the nonsense that gets pooped out by our lawmakers on a regular basis... but I don't see how you'd manage that...

The assumption that a change in size necessarily entails a scaled increase in the problems of corruption is... Not warranted, at the least.

As others do point out, a larger house would decrease the growing leverage that individuals can gain through gerrymandering, various forms of corruption, and block voting. The base problem in congress is not that congress is too big, but that it is unresponsive to the needs or desires of the people it serves. It can afford to be so, because so many of its members can count themselves invincible from retribution for corruption, and cronyism. They can do this because their voices grow larger than those of the people who elected them.

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I Used to Be a Drummer
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:


Regardless, the politics of race in America are a tiny, TINY part of why the government doesn't work, but a HUGE part of why the nation doesn't work. There's a big difference.


A big difference? How can you get white people to support intelligent social programs if so many of them hate the race(s) that will be most directly helped?

People get the government they deserve, in the long run. What's that saying about teaching calculus to a pig? Or cast pearls before swine? Or making silk purses of sows' ears? ROFL

I agree that increasing the number of representatives in Congress would be a good idea.

For that matter, I don't think we need a Senate anymore. Basically, the Senate has become the voice of conservative/rich/white/rural people, and I've had quite enough of that demographic running this country. Not that the elderly don't have some wisdom to share, and not that rural people don't deserve a voice. However, the Senate is becoming less and less representative as time passes, and the country becomes more urban. It's a representative democracy, not "rule by the white/rural people".

Basically, it's the "elderly" aspect of the Senate that's screwing the "rural" aspect. People in rural areas are completely out of luck re: the digital divide. Internet packages like Exede and Verizon's HomeFusion are too expensive and/or don't serve enough people, and have draconian data limits. Young people in rural areas have almost no chance these days, as far as keeping up with their suburban counterparts.

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Blayne Bradley
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The point of the Senate is to give each state an equal voice. I see this as an requirement in the US still though maybe how they are selected should be mixed member proportional.
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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by I Used to Be a Drummer:
A big difference? How can you get white people to support intelligent social programs if so many of them hate the race(s) that will be most directly helped?

Could just point out that because blacks are still a minority, there are a lot more poor white people that are helped by social programmes than the number of poor black people helped. Cutting off your nose to spite your face and all that.
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I Used to Be a Drummer
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People in rural areas really do deserve good wireless data coverage. However, the pet projects that powerful elderly senators from rural states champion have nothing to do with this.

The irony is that people is rural areas could do online and over-the-phone jobs, even if it's just customer service, and don't need large-scale defense projects, Bridges to Nowhere, etc.. However, elderly rural senators will never understand that, and will keep creating more Bridges to Nowhere until old age finally takes them.

SMH

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Rakeesh
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That you label earmarks as the biggest impediment to narrowing the digital divide shows you might not be as in touch with this subject as you think.
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Orincoro
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I don't even understand the correlation. There's creating jobs, and there's *attracting* jobs. Two different things entirely.
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Dr Strangelove
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It sounds to me like we need to bring back Chartism. Just sayin'.
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I Used to Be a Drummer
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
I don't even understand the correlation. There's creating jobs, and there's *attracting* jobs. Two different things entirely.

You can spend the money on a Bridge to Nowhere, or you can spend it on better/cheaper/faster wireless data coverage, so they're not entirely unrelated.

quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:


That you label earmarks as the biggest impediment to narrowing the digital divide shows you might not be as in touch with this subject as you think.

I'm not saying earmarks are a big impediment to better wireless data coverage. I'm saying that senators from rural states would better serve their constituents by spending less time and energy on Bridges to Nowhere, and more time on improving wireless data coverage.

It won't happen, and corporations like Dish and Verizon are going to be the ones that actually make it happen, when and to the degree that it does...at least in the next 10 years, probably.

Much beyond that point, the technology will have done some changing, and the demographics of corporate boards and members of Congress will have changed somewhat, too. I would guess it will eventually become a non-issue, but that's just a guess.

And I DO know quite a bit about the issue. I did tech support for AT&T Wireless for a year, installed Uverse for about a year, and now I do tech support for Exede and Dish TV.

I was following the LightSquared situation like a major fanboy, let me tell you. I was disgusted to see what happened to Lightsquared.

The most unbelievable part is how AT&T and Verizon are just sitting on all that old analog TV spectrum they got in the FCC auction. That could be re-apportioned for wireless data, but nooooo. They're just going to sit on it as long as we let them.

As far as I'm concerned, the government should give AT&T and Verizon their money back, re-apportion that spectrum to wireless data, and auction it off again with the stipulation that it actually gets used within, say, 2 years. Otherwise, it gets taken back again, the purchase money returned, and gets re-auctioned again. The government could also return a percentage of the purchase price based on how many users the spectrum has at 2, 3, and 4 years out, just to pick random time intervals.

And while I'm dreaming, yes, I would like a pony. ROFL

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