Congressional Procedure Reform Blogging

US Capitol Building

US Capitol Building

Responding to my proposed changes to American political procedure, Dylan Matthews says we should go further and eliminate committees altogether. In a followup, though, he acknowledges the problem with this, namely that it might totally gut congressional oversight.

My proposal for dealing with this issue would be to keep standing committees in place (the jurisdiction should almost certainly be re-aligned, but that’s another story and it’s boring) but rely on ad hoc committees for major pieces of legislation. Basically, if you want to do an important and controversial piece of legislation, the Speaker should appoint a committee to write the bill. The goal would be to put together a committee with enough solid ideologues to get a good bill, but also that’s ideologically diverse enough to produce a bill that can actually pass. And the incentive would be to make sure to appoint savvy dealmakers to chair the ad hoc committees rather than rigid ideologues or inept hacks.

A potentially related idea is Nick Beaudrot’s proposal to make the House of Representatives much larger:

Representatives in the large body of most nations’ legislative body tend to represent between 75,000 and 200,000 constituents. The US, there’s one Congressman for every 700,000 constituents. Getting down to the international norm would require tripling the size of the House.

It should be noted that massively increasing the size of the House would have other interesting consequences. A district with 200,000 members would have a off-year primary electorate of about 15,000 to 20,000 voters. This is a small enough number that it’s plausible for a candidate to meet, in person, everyone who’s going to vote for them. Medium sized cities would have so many members that campaigns would be waged strictly by direct mail, or we would move to multi-member districts.

I think this is a good idea. But to make it work you would need to embrace some other reforms, including multi-member constituencies and greater reliance on ad hoc committees. A side benefit of increasing the size of the House is that since each state has to have at least one House member, the current system over-represents residents of severely underpopulated states like Wyoming. Expanding the House would mitigate this to some extent.