Commentary: No need to make Congress bigger

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramOctober 1, 2012 

SANDERS BOB RAY FT

Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

ROSS HAILEY — MCT/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Members of Congress have packed their bags and headed home, taking another recess until after the November elections.

On one hand, that's good because it means they can't do as much harm if they're not in session. However, they have left behind a lot of unfinished business, including addressing massive automatic spending cuts that could send the country into recession again.

Those matters will now be passed on to a lame duck session, which is rarely pretty or effective.

At a current approval rating of around 13 percent, this Congress is among the least popular in history, and rightly so. The terms do-nothing, obstructionist and pathetically partisan all apply.

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, I'm pessimistic about the possibility of seeing any great change on Capitol Hill. The constant bickering, deadlocked governance and political one-upmanship are likely to linger for some time to come, no matter which party is in power.

So what do we do to shake things up in Washington, D.C.?

Oddly enough, on one of the talking-head cable shows the other day, I heard part of a discussion about whether we should increase the size of the Congress so that each member of the House of Representatives would represent fewer people. It's an idea that pops up every few years when people think they are being under-represented or their state is becoming less influential in Washington.

That debate, which is never taken seriously, seems to occur naturally after reapportionment every 10 years when some states gain seats in the House and others lose representation.

After the 2010 Census, for example, 10 states (New York and Ohio among them) lost districts and eight states added seats, with Texas gaining the most at four for a total of 36.

The Constitution doesn't say how many members of Congress there should be, stating "the Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative."

There were 65 members of the original Congress, each representing about 33,000 constituents. As the nation grew, so did the number of representatives in the House until 1929, when Congress voted to cap membership at 435. It has been that way ever since, meaning that each congressional district today includes about 700,000 people.

That's a lot for one person to represent effectively, especially since the founders thought House members should be closer to the people. But what would be an appropriate size for a fast-growing country like ours?

If we doubled the number of members, would we simply be doubling the amount of chaos and acrimony? I can't image 870 representatives fighting for votes, putting up their negative campaign ads and hogging that microphone on the floor of the House to appear on C-SPAN.

Not a pleasant thought.

While expanding the Congress may make for a good academic discussion, it is not a subject worthy of serious debate.

What's needed is that voters demand more from their representatives than the usual self-serving rhetoric, election-year pandering and playing the assigned role of devoted party member.

We must insist that they go to Washington to serve their districts and the nation as a whole, putting country above party. That means they must work together and, yes, even compromise on some issues in order to move the republic forward.

Although it's easier said than done, when they fail or even make no attempt to live up to those expectations, then they should be rejected at the polls.

Over the next few weeks most representatives will be making the rounds asking for your vote to return them to Washington for two more years.

Before you cast that ballot, ask yourself just one question: Do they deserve it?

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