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Thursday, May 11, 2023

Enlarging the House: Practical Considerations

Danielle Allen at WP:
A system requiring one person to represent the interests of almost 1 million people would have troubled Washington — as it should us. But let’s set his ratio aside for a moment. In a previous column, I argued for a bill put forward by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) that would bring us to 585 seats. And after that initial step up, we could transition to “a cube root rule” — pegging the number of House members to the cube root of the national population — for growth in subsequent census years. In this way, the size of the House would increase continually with the population but at a steady and manageable rate. Based on population projections, this would put us on track for a Congress that would grow from 435 to 585 to 736 over the next 40 years.

But what would happen to the Capitol? Wouldn’t we need a new building? Doesn’t that make this impossible?

The Capitol has already undergone multiple extensions. In 1850, growth in membership led to a major renovation project. By 1869, the work delivered the Capitol that we know now. But even after the Capitol was complete that year, the House continued to grow. In the 1870s, it grew from 243 to 293 members, continuing up to the current 435, established in 1929.
And here’s the extraordinary thing: It still has room for more growth — quite a bit of it.

I engaged architect Michael Murphy to explore what is possible. Murphy is a visionary designer committed to architecture for the public good. He designed Bryan Stevenson’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice — the memorial for lynching and racial violence victims, as it’s better known — in Montgomery, Ala.
Murphy and his team took the current dimensions of the House and halls, shown in this image, as a starting point.

The chamber now comfortably accommodates about 450 people on the floor, along with more than 400 in the gallery on the second level.

The team’s first idea was to create a new elevated section that could easily allow seating for up to 904 members.