One of the first multi-post series I ever did on this blog, way back before much of anyone was reading, was on the question of whether a much bigger House of Representatives would be a good thing. Answer? It wouldn't! But it's an interesting question, and people who think unorthodox thoughts often float this one -- and now, we have Bruce Bartlett floating the idea, with Kevin Drum reacting (the previous round, or at least the one I noticed, was set off by Nick Beaudrot, who thought about tripling the size of the House.
So, here's what I came up with back in August. First, elections to a much larger House would help candidates, especially incumbents, and interest groups, at the expense of political parties. It would, however, have the effect of increasing some kinds of demographic diversity. Let me explain that first point...party campaign money, whether raised by formal party committees or through party networks, is already a national market; it's not especially likely that it would increase if there were more elections to spend it on. So party money as a percentage of all money raised would go down. Money in general, however, would be more important, because press coverage of mini-districts would be even less than is press coverage of our current House districts.
Within the House, more Members would empower leaders at the expense of rank-and-file. I don't see any good argument for wanting stronger leaders in the House, given that both party and committee leadership is already quite strong.
One can make the case that some other sorts of representation would improve in a larger House, but I tend to agree with Drum that once you get to 250K people per district (in other words, tripling the size, which is about as much as one can imagine) that personal campaigning would not be relevant anyway. And if press coverage per Member drops, that would tend to work against more personal representation.
I guess I also question Bartlett's premise, which is that "Congress' dysfunction is becoming so obvious and overwhelming that radical reforms are necessary." There are some reforms I'd like to see in the House, but I don't think it's obviously or overwhelmingly dysfunctional. It is very partisan, no question about it. If I could wave a wand, I'd probably prefer somewhat more autonomy for somewhat less partisan committees and subcommittees, thereby giving minority party Members a somewhat better chance to influence legislation, which in turn might at least soften the edges of their partisanship. But beyond that, I really don't see a need for massive reform in the House.
Oh, and it's good to see Bartlett citing studies, but I really question their relevance. The House of Representatives is part of a bicameral transformative legislature. It's very difficult to compare it to a legislature such as the House of Commons that primarily ratifies decisions by the government.
No, the part of Congress that could use some reform is the Senate, not the House. Bartlett has a suggestion there, too, but I'll discuss it in a separate post.