What if we increased the size of the U.S. House of Representatives?
Congress is meant to be the branch of the federal government closest to the people. But today, each member of the House represents on average 760,000 people. This is problematic for a few reasons. For starters, representatives are too removed from their constituents. Larger districts also mean more expensive campaigns, which make politicians more dependent on donors instead of the people. And larger districts make it harder for candidates from minority groups and nontraditional backgrounds to run for office.
These are just a few of the reasons why Danielle Allen, Academy member and cochair of the Academy's Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, argues in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post that Growing the House of Representatives is the key to unlocking our present paralysis.
Allen writes: "As originally conceived, the House was supposed to grow with every decennial census. But the 1929 Permanent Apportionment Act has as a de facto matter capped the size of the House. As a result, we are the only Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development democracy that hasn’t continuously adjusted the size of its legislative assembly over the past century."
Our current cap of 435 members means our national legislature no longer adjusts and shifts in meaningful ways with population changes, Allen continues. Lack of proximity to representatives leaves constituents in an information vacuum about officeholders, easily filled by polarizing national narratives and misinformation. The ever-growing size of districts reinforces the power of incumbency and money. We have rigidified ourselves to a breaking point.
The first recommendation of the Our Common Purpose report calls for enlarging the House of Representatives. The Academy convened a working group to develop a report elaborating on this recommendation, and Lee Drutman, one of the report's authors, testified before the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress in August. Today, a growing body of experts and policymakers, inspired by Our Common Purpose, are working to advance this reform.