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Throughout our overview of Congress, questions have been continuously raised concerning the actual representation provided by that body. In what ways would, or could you argue that Congress is and is not a representative body? (Give some relevant examples, not hard to find with this particular Congressional crop of “leaders”.) What factors bear primary responsibility for this situation? If you were charged with reforming Congress to provide greater representation of the people in all their glorious diversity, what specific changes would you introduce into our system, and why? How would you level the playing-field, in fact (not just in the fiction that you have been given as the “truth”).
THE AMERICAN CONGRESS
The United States Congress is supposed to be a representative body of the country’s entire population. Based in Washington DC, the Congress has members whose major mandate is to represent and champion for the interests of their constituents. However, there have been arguments that this particular representative house is failing in its mandate of representation. In other words, it is no longer seen as representative. For instance, in the year 2011, the actions of the Congress were approved by a mere 10% of the entire U.S population. This sharp fall in the congressional approval ratings rings an alarm that something has to be done in order to restore the representative mandate of the house and people’s trust in its actions. It should however be noted that there are also arguments that hold that Congress is still representative. In this respect, this paper looks into the ways in which the U.S. Congress is and is not representative and suggests methods through which its true representative mandate can be restored.
One of the ways through which Congress is representative is that it basically represents everyone in the country. Different groups of people are represented by the two political parties. For instance, the Democratic Party has most women identifying with it. This therefore means that such women are represented by the party. It also applies to other groups of people such as those who are of various socioeconomic classes. In the case of those who are independent and are not inclined towards any of the two political parties, their opinions on given matters would be represented by either or both of the parties.
Congress is also representative in the sense that it balances on three issues: party interests, national interest, and constituency matters. As such, the Congressmen always have to reach a compromise. They have to ensure that all the three issues are fairly dealt with. An example to show this would be in a situation where a motion seeking to reduce spending on the military would be presented to the floor of the house. Passing of the motion would culminate in the closure of several military bases. If it happens that one of the bases is located in a constituency whose representative is a democrat, the representative would definitely vote in disfavor of the motion. This would be because the closure would mean many of his or her constituents would lose their jobs. Another option that such a Congressman would have would be to abstain from the vote. In order to save his or her constituents the more, the representative would appeal for the change of the bill through the relevant committee. This they would have to do before the second reading of the bill. This way, the representative would have duly represented the interests of his or her constituents despite going against the party’s interests.
On the other hand, Congress is not representative in a number of ways. This is in spite of its main role being to represent the American people. One of these ways is that it has a biased representation. This is attributed to the overly biased and unfair method of choosing the representatives. The American public is not fully represented by Congress because of the fact that states are divided into districts for representation in the house. The bias is further heightened by the backgrounds and demographics of most of the Congressmen. The method applied in the division of the districts is inconsistent. The drawing of the lines demarcating the boundaries of the districts is hugely influenced and biased by politics. Such influence and bias would favor the party that would be charged with dividing the districts. Consequently, the representatives that would be elected through such a system would not be representative of all the constituents within a district.
Furthermore, the American public’s demographics are not reflected by those of Congress. For instance, the proportion of the number of minorities and women in the country compared to that in Congress shows a huge disconnect. This implies that the minorities and women are not appropriately represented in the two houses of Congress. This is unfortunate for these two groups of people since their concerns and views would not be taken into account when decisions are being made in Congress. As it is, the number of minorities and women accounts for a significant portion of the entire U.S population. Thus, the lack of their proper representation in Congress sounds weird and really unfortunate.
Another point connected to the mode of choosing Congressmen is that the house only represents special interests. Under normal conditions and expectations, Congress should be a representative of the people. However, this noble role has been adversely affected and tainted by money. A Congressman should at all times think of how to better the conditions of their constituents. Instead, and unfortunately so, most of these representatives are always preoccupied with how they would fund their reelection. This makes them totally oblivious of the plight of the very people they should represent. In addition, this situation creates a scenario whereby utmost power is bestowed unto the funders of political campaigns instead of such power being enjoyed by the common citizen.
The decreasing significance of Congress as a representative body of the American people is further worsened by the House not having any independent representative and the Senate having only two elected independent representatives. Notably, there are diverse political beliefs across America. The composition of Congress surely does not represent this diversity. According to polls that were conducted recently, 40% of American citizens noted that they are neither democrat nor republican. However, in Congress, 99.6% of the representatives are inclined to either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. The implication here is that only 0.4% of the Congressmen represent the 40% Americans who are politically non-aligned. This amounts to almost no representation at all.
The disparity between the Congressmen and those they represent is further widened in terms of gender. There is an overrepresentation of White males in Congress. The percentages of the Senate and the House made up by the White males are 79% and 75% respectively. Surprisingly though, the male Whites only make 37% of the entire American population. On the other hand, only 17% of Congress is made up of women. This is in spite of women accounting for a whopping 50.8% of the American population. Here, there is poor and unfair representation of men and women in Congress. The situation is actually the opposite of how it ought to be.
Another factor that bears primary responsibility for Congress being misrepresentative is the country’s electoral system that over-rewards the majority party. Like now, the Republican Party is overrepresented in the House of Representatives. Noteworthy, “the total vote differential between the two parties for elections to the House in 2016 was 1.2 percent”. However, Republicans got a higher number of extra seats by 21, representing a difference of 10.8%. This problem of overrepresentation is even larger when considered state-by-state. In states that are deemed pro-Republican, the Republican Party got 74.6% of representation but only won 56% of the vote. Contrastingly, in pro-Democratic states, Democrats only got 69.1% of representation in spite of winning 60.3% of the vote. Thus, the unfortunate bottom-line is that the majority party enjoys disproportionate representation, one that is not a true reflection of the voting patterns in the country.
Given the above arguments, it is clear that Congress is not representative, contrary to its stated mandate. If I were to be charged with reforming it to provide greater representation of the people in all their glorious diversity, I would create term limits thus eliminating for good, career politicians. I would do this in recognition of the fact that most politicians have the wherewithal, in terms of finances, that would see them being reelected over and over again. Noteworthy, politicians become more powerful as they continue holding elective offices. They eventually develop corrupt behaviors and an entitlement feeling after realizing that nobody can easily dislodge them from their positions. Creating term limits would definitely provide room for more representation of the poor in the American society.
Another change I would bring into the method of electing Congressmen is that their elections would be funded by public money. This would ensure that politicians do not seek for funding from donors. As it is, millions of dollars are always spent by politicians in order to secure their election. Worse off, some still end up losing the elections. The source of this money is donors who expect some favor from the politicians after their elections. This is the only way through which the politicians would be “liable” for funding from the same donors during another election. This means that the politicians would be working for the interests of their donors at the expense of their electorates. In my opinion though, a politician does not need millions of dollars for them to be elected. Instead, all they need is to sell their policies and manifesto and wait for the elections to be funded by the public. I would also ensure that the season taken for campaigning is less than a year. This would further see to it that all the aspirants would make actual appearances and meet the people one on one as they seek for votes. This way, the electorate would have a better chance of assessing the aspirants and making informed decisions about electing them.
In conclusion, the U.S. Congress will remain unrepresentative for as long as the current method of election and system remain in force. Policy makers and other stakeholders need to see this glaring anomaly and fix it soon enough in order to save the common American. There is no point in some people creating a long lasting career out of elective politics. Politics is about representation and various people should be given the chance to represent the society. As a matter of fact, this is the chief reason why even the presidential term limits is maintained at two. Political office is not permanent. On the same note, the diversity of the American population should be respected and depicted by the representation in Congress.
Davidson, Roger. 2015. Congress and Its Members. New York: SAGE Publications.
Eilperin, Julliet. 2007. Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship Is Poisoning the House of Representatives. Washington DC: Rowman & Littlefield.
Mann, Robert. 2014. Working Congress: A Guide for Senators, Representatives, and Citizens. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press.
Quirk, William. 2011. Courts and Congress: America’s Unwritten Constitution. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
Schickler, Eric & Lee, Frances. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress. Oxford: OUP Oxford.
Welch, Susan et al. 2013. Understanding American Government. Boston: Cengage Learning.
 Welch, Susan et al. 2013. Understanding American Government. Boston: Cengage Learning. p.220.
 Ibid. 1, 1.
 Mann, Robert. 2014. Working Congress: A Guide for Senators, Representatives, and Citizens. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press. p.94.
 Ibid. 3, 1.
 Quirk, William. 2011. Courts and Congress: America’s Unwritten Constitution. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. p.147.
 Ibid. 5, 1.
 Eilperin, Julliet. 2007. Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship Is Poisoning the House of Representatives. Washington DC: Rowman & Littlefield. p.48.
 Ibid. 7, 1.
Ingram, George, and Annababette Wils. 2017. Misrepresentation in the House of Representatives. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2017/02/22/misrepresentation-in-the-house/ (accessed 19 Oct 2018).
 Ibid. 9, 1.
 Davidson, Roger. 2015. Congress and Its Members. New York: SAGE Publications. p.422.