Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Expanding Congress?!

Sabato's book A More Perfect Constitution addresses primarily how to fix the mechanisms of the three branches of government, which I think is a smart play here (he's avoiding the divisive social issues like abortion and flag burning that always pop up in amendment discussions). They've got a summary up at the Moderate Voice and I'm going by that, although I plan on finding the book and reading it meself asap...

The first thing up is Congress, and how Sabato wants to reform it:
  • Increase the size of the Senate by adding two additional senators for each of the ten most populous states and one extra senator for each of the fifteen next most populous (to be determined by each census).
  • Allow former presidents and vice presidents to hold the position of ‘national senator’, participating and voting in the Senate but not holding seats in the Electoral College.
  • Mandate nonpartisan decennial redistricting for the House of Representatives based on the guiding principles of compact districts, increased partisan competition, and the needs of voters.
  • Expand membership in the House of Representatives to approximately 1,000 members (keeping staff resource allocations steady to level the playing field).
There's a few other items under the reforming of Congress, but I'll start with these four.
The things that leap out first is that Sabato is arguing for MORE representatives in both Houses, which brings up the knee-jerk reaction of "OMG more CORRUPT BASTARDS in the halls of power!" Once we work past the automatic disdain Americans have for elected officials, we have to look at the reasons Sabato is giving for increased representation. First, representation in the House of Reps, which is always based on state population. Originally it was 1 Rep per 60,000 voters. Thing is, populations grew. States grew. The size of the House of Representative sexpanded until at some point the PTB realized if they didn't cap the number of Reps they would run out of floor space. So they capped the number of Representatives at 435, and from then on they shift the proportion of representation. It's now closer to 1 Rep per 600,000, give or take a city. Sabato has to be arguing that the level of representation is now far too meager, far too spread out, for 1 Representative to be representing so many people. So he wants to increase the body count of Representatives to try and get representation down to a more manageable number, and to where a Representative may be more responsive to their constituents. My problem with that is that there is still no guarantee that you will get better representation even with more Congresspersons: more that likely, you're just going to make it more expensive for the lobbyists and deep pockets to buy up more Congresspersons.
The argument Sabato is making to increase representation in the Senate doesn't fly either. He wants to allow the 10 largest states to get 2 additional Senators, and the next 15 largest to get 1 additional. He's obviously thinking again that larger states need more representation. There's a problem: THE FOUNDERS DID NOT SET UP THE SENATE THAT WAY. Remember the Great Compromise? The Senate is NOT BASED on population counts: large states have to have the same count of Senators as the smaller states. That way the smaller states can place a check on any large-state majority push that would come at the expense of the smaller states. By giving the larger states more senators, the smaller states will have no stake in the governance of the nation.
If Sabato wants more representation for people in the Senate, he needs to think more broadly, and ensure that the small states benefit as well as the big ones. There's a simple solution: bump the total of senators up to 3 per state. You increase the current count of Senators up to 150, and that should ease any staffing/committee issues you might have. It might also free up various logjam procedurals that occur more often in a smaller body of Senators. Better yet, it aids in the term schedules. Senators serve 6 year terms, with the states electing each Senator on a staggered schedule. With 2 Senators, there's been an open election year: With 3 Senators, each election term now will have a Senator on the voting bloc, and each state a chance to redefine their Senatorial representation each election. Bumping to 3 Senators works better than just letting the big states have more Senators.
His idea of putting former Presidents into the Senate as 'National Senators' reeks of the age-old problem of "What should we do with Ex-Presidents?" I'm not sure a lot of people would like to see Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or George W. anywhere near a political office again. Not every Ex-President is going to be a Harry Truman, doc.
The non-partisan, non-gerrymandered voting district suggestion is, of course, a fracking NO-BRAINER. WE NEED TO GET RID OF THE GERRYMANDERS.

More to follow.


JimS said...

I know this is now an old article but I am researching why we have this absurd cap on the number of reps and came across it. I agree the number senators should remain as the constitution intended. I also believe the number of reps should have remained as the constitution intended it. I strongly believe that gerrymandering would become almost impossible if we increased the number as well as bad lobbing would be harder to hide. Lobbing is not a bad thing but some techniques used by lobbyists are deplorable. The people need more representation.

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