Downsizing the US Congress – Is it Constitutional?

The following is the substance of an email my mom forwarded me that has evidently been making the rounds among her friends at her workplace:

“The Proposal”
When a company falls on difficult times, one of the things that seems to happen is they reduce their staff and workers. The remaining workers need to find ways to continue to do a good job or risk that their job would be eliminated as well. Wall street, and the media normally congratulate the CEO for making this type of “tough decision”, and his board of directors gives him a big bonus.

Our government should not be immune from similar risks.

Therefore: Reduce the House of Representatives from the current 435 members to 218 members and Senate members from 100 to 50 (one per State). Also reduce remaining staff by 25%.

Accomplish this over the next 8 years. (two steps / two elections) and of course this would require some redistricting.

Some Yearly Monetary Gains Include:

$44,108,400 for elimination of base pay for congress. (267 members X $165,200 pay / member / yr.)

$97,175,000 for elimination of the above people’s staff. (estimate $1.3 Million in staff per each member of the House, and $3 Million in staff per each member of the Senate every year)

$240,294 for the reduction in remaining staff by 25%.

$7,500,000,000 reduction in pork barrel ear-marks each year. (those members whose jobs are gone. Current estimates for total government pork earmarks are at $15 Billion / yr)

The remaining representatives would need to work smarter and would need to improve efficiencies. It might even be in their best interests to work together for the good of our country?

We may also expect that smaller committees might lead to a more efficient resolution of issues as well. It might even be easier to keep track of what your representative is doing.

Congress has more tools available to do their jobs than it had back in 1911 when the current number of representatives was established. (telephone, computers, cell phones to name a few)

Congress did not hesitate to head home when it was a holiday, when the nation needed a real fix to the economic problems. Also, we have 3 senators that have not been doing their jobs for the past 18+ months (on the campaign trail) and still they all have been accepting full pay. These facts alone support a reduction in senators & congress.

Summary of opportunity:

$ 44,108,400 reduction of congress members.

$282,100, 000 for elimination of the reduced house member staff.

$150,000,000 for elimination of reduced senate member staff.

$59,675,000 for 25% reduction of staff for remaining house members.

$37,500,000 for 25% reduction of staff for remaining senate members.

$7,500,000,000 reduction in pork added to bills by the reduction of congress members.

$8,073,383,400 per year, estimated total savings.
(that’s 8 BILLION (with a ‘B’) just to start!)

Big business does these types of cuts all the time.

If Congresspersons were required to serve 20, 25 or 30 years (like everyone else) in order to collect retirement benefits there is no telling how much we would save. Now they get full retirement after serving only ONE term.

IF you are happy how the Congress spends our taxes, then just delete this message. IF you are NOT at all happy, then I assume you know what to do.

When I got this email, it sounded like a good plan, but as always I wanted to check with the Constitution. I knew that the Constitution guarantees each state 2 Senators, but I was more curious about the numbers of US Representatives.

Quite frankly, as far as the reductions to the numbers of members of the US Congress goes, the above commentary is UNconstitutional.

The US Constitution in Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph 1 explicitly states, “”The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state”. Therefore, without a Constitutional Amendment, you cannot have only 50 US Senators.

But what was more interesting for me, as noted above, was what the Constitution says in regards to the number of Representatives that there should be.

And this is where it gets interesting. The US Constitution in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 states the following (emphasis mine):

The actual Enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct. The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the state of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

The population of the United States according to right now is 305,802,240.

The number of current US Representatives is 435. Doing the math, this means that each Representative represents 702,993 people.

This is more than TWENTY TIMES more than the Constitution allows.

The ‘Proposal’ above would limit the number of US Representatives to 218. This would mean that each Representative would represent 1,402,762 people. This number is nearly FIFTY TIMES the number the Constitution allows.

These numbers beg the question, how many US Representatives are needed to comply with the specifications in the Constitution?

I’m glad you asked!

Doing the math, the current US population divided by the Constitutionally mandated maximum of 30,000 people per Representative, gives us:

10,193 US Representatives – TWENTY THREE times the number currently there.

Now, I’m not saying there needs to be that many US Representatives. Indeed, even I tend to think that the number we currently have is excessive. HOWEVER, I hold that we MUST hold to what the Constitution says, and if we don’t like it we MUST put forth an Amendment to change it.

Therefore, I say an Amendment needs to be adopted changing the maximum number of people represented by any given Representative. What should that number be? I’m open for debate on that, though I’d say it clearly needs to be more than 30K!

What do y’all think?


2 Responses

  1. It would be constitutional to decrease the size of the U.S. House. You just need to have at least one Member per state and, at this point, fewer than 10,000 House seats…. Technically, you could have as few as 50 House seats, one per state.

    That of course would be a bad idea. Indeed, we have a lot less representation per person than we used to (one-third as much as a century ago).

  2. First, JB, thanks for the comment!

    Secondly, you do have a point. Upon second look, the text does seem to say that 10,193 would be the current maximum number of Representatives, not the number needed to comply with a persons-per-Representative maximum.

    Still, the math proved interesting, at least to this former math teacher-turned-techie/blogger!

    And I do think we need to start an honest and open dialogue about how many people we think each Representative should represent, and adjust the US House accordingly.

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