Monday, October 09, 2006

Foley, house staff, and the problem of the House

John Fund finds that the house failed to stop Rep. Foley's flirtations early because the issue was handled by staff rather than the elected representatives themselved. The 435 members of the House depend on 17,000 staffers who tell them, as per Fund's article, what's important or how to vote.

This illustrates what might very possibly have been a mistake in how congress was organized. After the US constitution was enacted, there were only 30,000 constituents per house member (see Article I, Section 2, Clause 3) and no staff. If you have lived in a town of 30,000 or 40,000, you know that it is relatively easy to know your town mayor reasonably well. If you had a strong opinion on a local issue, you would expect to be able to bend his ear, one on one. As the US grew, however, it was decided not to increase the number of representatives. There are now 680,000 constituents for each representative. That is the size of a large city. Most people now know their representatives only from their TV ads.

If we had kept a ratio of 1 representative per 40,000 constituents, there would now be enough representatives to divide the work so that their need for staff, like in the original congress, would be minimal. The problems with the staff functioning as a shadow unelected government would be disappear. Because TV ads become superfluous when you can meet a candidate personally, the costs of running an election campaign would largely disappear, similar a small-town mayor's reelection budget, while representatives would have to represent their constituents more accurately. On the down side, though, the capitol building would need to be enlarged to hold the 7,400 representatives.

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