Home Commentary and Analysis A Smaller House of Representatives Might Alleviate Gridlock
A Smaller House of Representatives Might Alleviate Gridlock

A Smaller House of Representatives Might Alleviate Gridlock

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By Dr. Stephen Schwalbe
Faculty Member, Public Administration at American Public University

Most Americans know there is significant political gridlock in Congress these days, even with both chambers controlled by the Republicans. But many Americans do not know how many legislators make up the House of Representatives and how that number was derived. Article I, Section 2, clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution directs Congress to allot Representatives based on state population.

However, over the decades, rural states lost seats in the House, hence power, to urban states because of the significant growth of American cities. The number of representatives was set at 435 by the Apportionment Act of 1911. Several attempts later to pass a new apportionment bill to adjust for the growing disparity between urban and rural populations failed.

Compromise Legislation in the 1920s Set House Number at 435

A compromise was reached among House Representatives in the 1920s and a new apportionment bill concurred that the permanent number of Representatives would be 435. Since then, the population of the United States has swelled to over 323 million people. This means that each current member of the House represents on average just over 742,500 citizens.

By comparison, in the United Kingdom, each of the 650 members of the House of Commons represents approximately 197,000 people, or about four times fewer than in the U.S. If Congress adopted this apportionment number, the House would consist of 1,640 Representatives.

Clearly such a large number of Representatives would be untenable for many reasons. If congressional gridlock is bad now, such a large number would only make gridlock exponentially worse.

Perhaps the House could agree on a set number of Americans for each member to represent, say 1 million, instead of the hard-and-fast 435 members who today represent the 323 million U.S. citizens.

If that were to happen, there would be only 323 members of the House. With a smaller number, perhaps there would be less gridlock. Taxpayers would also save money  due to less House office space, staffs, official travel, and franking privileges, to name a few.

The rural states would not be aggrieved by this move as it would be a proportional shift downward. Urban states would not have any more power than rural states. For example, the ten largest states by population would change as follows:

State Current House Members Project Members
California 53 39
Texas 36 28
Florida 27 22
New York 27 20
Pennsylvania 18 13
Ohio 18 12
Iowa 14 11
Georgia 14 10
North Carolina 13 10
Michigan 14 10

Because the number of Representatives was set at 435 by the Apportionment Act of 1911, it would require only a new law to supersede it. Given that it would save taxpayer money and might mitigate some of the gridlock in Congress, this initiative appears to me to be worthy of congressional consideration.

About the Author

Dr. Stephen Schwalbe is an associate professor at American Public University. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Stephen received a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Policy from Auburn University in 2006. His book about military base closures was published in 2009.

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