- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house has not votedIntroducedNovember 28th, 2018
What is House Bill H.R. 7181?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 7181
In-Depth: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced this bill to decrease the number of members in the House of Representatives to 400 to bring its size relative to the Senate closer to the 1st Congress’s ratio of 2.5 as opposed to today’s 4.35. Applying the formula used for the 2010 reapportionment to a 400-member House, large states, such as New York, Texas, and California, would each lose a number of seats; a handful of small states, such as Nebraska, West Virginia, and Rhode Island, would also each lose a seat.
Common Cause’s legislative director, Aaron Scherb called this bill “strange,” and questioned Issa’s timing, since the Republicans had just lost the House before the bill’s introduction. Scherb pointed out, “Shrinking the size of the House could exacerbate gerrymandering and make government inacccessible to more Americans.”
This proposal to decrease the House’s size contradicts many Congressional observers’ opinion that the House should, in fact, increase in size to decrease the governing ratio, which has grown steadily as the U.S. population has increased. The New York Times editorial board, which advocates adding 158 members to the House to make it “proportionally similar to most modern democracies,” points out that growing the House as the U.S. population increased was historical precedent until 1920:
“The House’s current size — 435 representatives — was set in 1911, when there were fewer than one-third as many people living in the United States as there are now. At the time, each member of Congress represented an average of about 200,000 people. In 2018, that number is almost 750,000. This would shock the Constitution’s framers, who set a baseline of 30,000 constituents per representative and intended for the House to grow along with the population. The possibility that it might not — that Congress would fail to add new seats and that district populations would expand out of control — led James Madison to propose what would have been the original First Amendment: a formula explicitly tying the size of the House to the total number of Americans. The amendment failed, but Congress still expanded the House throughout the first half of the nation’s existence. The House of Representatives had 65 members when it was first seated in 1789, and it grew in every decade but one until 1920, when it became frozen in time.”
To bolster their case, the Times editorial board adds that the House’s current size makes it impossible for lawmakers to stay in touch with their constituents, makes lawmakers more vulnerable to lobbyists and special interests, creates districts of wildly varying sizes, and skews the shape of the Electoral College:
“The bottom line is that the House today is far too small, and that poses a big danger to American democracy. For starters, how does a single lawmaker stay in touch with the concerns of three-quarters of a million people? The answer is she doesn’t. Research shows that representatives of larger districts are more likely to take political positions at odds with what a majority of their constituents want. These representatives are also ripe targets for lobbyists and special interests, whose money enables them to campaign at scale, often with misleading messages. Special interests are more likely than regular voters to influence policy positions and votes. Second, the cap on the number of House members leads to districts with wildly varying populations. Montana and Wyoming each have one representative, but Montana’s population — 1.05 million — is nearly twice the size of Wyoming’s. Meanwhile, Rhode Island, which has roughly the same population as Montana, gets two seats. These discrepancies violate the basic constitutional principle of one-person-one-vote, causing voters to be unequally represented in the chamber that was designed to offset the Senate, where every state gets two seats regardless of population. Third, the size of the House determines the shape of the Electoral College, because a state’s electoral votes are equal to its congressional delegation. This is one of the many reasons the college is an unfair and antiquated mechanism: States that are already underrepresented in Congress have a weaker voice in choosing the president, again violating the principle that each citizen should have an equal vote.”
However, there’s limited public support for adding new House seats. In April 2018, a Pew Research survey found that:
“Only 28% of Americans said the House should be expanded, versus 51% who said it should remain at 435 members. When historical context was added to the question, support for expansion rose a bit, to 34%, with the additional support coming mainly from Democrats.”
This bill doesn’t have cosponsors.
Of Note: Congress permanently fixed the number of House seats at 435 in the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. At that time, each House member represented 282,000 people. If that ratio were to be applied based on America’s population today, there would be over 1,100 representatives in the House.
The New York Times’ figure of 158 additional House members comes from the finding that national legislatures around the world “naturally conform to a clear pattern” of being roughly the cube root of their countries’ populations. Using this standard, America’s estimated population in 2020 would expand the House to 593 members, after subtracting the 100 members of the Senate, leading to an addition of 158 House members.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / tzahiV)