NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Increasing The Size Of The House Of Representatives

February 16, 2000

In his new book, "Completing the Revolution" (Free Press), columnist Robert Novak suggests Republicans should abandon the pursuit of term limits, which the courts have repeatedly ruled unconstitutional, for a big increase in the size of the House of Representatives.

In 1790, there were 106 members of the House. In the census that year, the U.S. population was 3,929,214, meaning that each congressman represented just 37,068 people. Consequently, members of Congress could know personally a large percentage of the people they represented and they knew him. A congressman might even know personally a majority of all the voters in his district.

As the nation grew and its population rose, the number of congressman also increased.

  • By 1910, the number had reached 435, such that each congressman represented about 211,000 people.
  • Had the number of congressmen exactly kept pace with the population, so that the ratio was the same as in 1790, there would have been 2,485 members of Congress.
  • Nevertheless, despite the fact that congressmen were already becoming distantly removed from their constituents, Congress forever fixed the number of House seats at 435, where it remains today.

As a consequence, the number of people in each congressional district is now well over 600,000. If the same ratio that existed in 1910 existed today, we would have 1,303 representatives in Congress, roughly three times more than now.

Increasing the number of representatives would bring in a massive amount of new blood that would refresh the institution. And continuing to raise their numbers as the population grows would mostly eliminate the need to take seats away from some states and give them to others. This is a painful and unnecessary exercise that makes the decennial census more of a political football than it need be.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, February 16, 2000.


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