Let’s talk numbers

Citizens Against Government Waste issued a press release yesterday outlining pay increases for House staffers:

Maximum salary: $156,848/year
Increased from: $153,022/year
Increase percent: 3.71

Congressmen are issued a Members’ Representational Allowance based on their district’s demographics and their distance from Washington, D.C. The MRA is used to pay their staffers and cover their office expenses. According to CAGW, the MRA for House offices ranged from $701,136 to $1,636,750 in fiscal 2004.

According to the Members’ Congressional Handbook, Members of the House are allowed a maximum of 18 permanent employees.

Enter the Constitution.

Article I, Section II
The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative;

Let’s explore this for a moment. As of this instance, Census.gov claims there are 295,343,316 people in the United States. If we divide that number by thirty thousand, we arrive at the maximum member count for the House of Representatives– a whopping 9,844!

Exploring further, we can take the total number of people in the United States, and divide that by 435, the total number of Congressmen, to arrive at the average constituent count per Representative– an incredible 678, 950 people! Imagine that– your Congressman could be representing you and 678,949 other people.

So, we’ve got 435 representatives, and it is theoretically possible that we could have 9,844 representatives. Each representative has to have a district of at least 30,000, but the average is over 23 times that.

Let’s take a break with the numbers, and I’ll try to tie this together a bit. Those of you who know me from America’s Debate know that I am a conservative– at least I claim I am. I’m not one of those new-fangled neo-conservatives. I consider myself to be a real conservative.

I take a very literal read on the Constitution. I consider it to be the proverbial “rules of the game,” and I consider it to be the definitive guide on the role, function, and limitations of the federal government.

I have a definition of “liberal” and of “conservative” that is outside the mainstream, although certainly much more accurate. My definitions of these easy-to-apply labels start and end with the Constitution.

If you believe that the power of the federal government is limited to what is specifically outlined in the Constitution, you have a conservative read of the Constitution, and you are a conservative. If you believe that the power of the federal government is not limited to what is specifically outlined in the Constitution, you have a liberal read of the Constitution, and are by definition a liberal.

By my definition, nearly all elected officials at the federal level are liberal. They are willing to assume powers not bestowed upon them. This means that congressmen from both sides of the aisle are liberal in my eyes. Yes, I truly believe this.

I provide the background information so you may understand that I am not merely a liberal in conservative’s clothing when I suggest that we should dramatically increase the number of Members of the House of Representatives. I’m not certain of the number, nor do I have any effective or logical means by which we can determine the appropriate amount of Representatives, but I do imagine it could be quite high while still providing a substantial reduction in operating costs for the House of Representatives.

Back to the numbers. Well, the numbers we have. It seems that finding information on how much Congress allocates for itself is very hard to find for some reason.

We know that each office gets between $701,136 to $1,636,750 a year, so we can, for the sake of continuing, calculate that each office gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,168,943 per year. Multiply that by the number of Congressmen, and we arrive at $508,490,205– a half of a billion dollars. Add in the actual salaries that we pay the Congressmen themselves (base pay $158,100 = 68,773,500) and we arrive at the price of our Congress: $577,263,705 per year. Of course, that figure is most certainly off, but I’d be happy to recalculate it if someone can find me the accurate numbers.

Now, what could we do with $577 million. At the current annual salary of $158,100 per year, we could pay 3651 Representatives. Of course, that wouldn’t cover expenses. When calculating expenses, we have to consider that a dramatic increase in the number of members of the House of Representatives would dramatically reduce the workload for each Representative. If we doubled the number of Representatives, we would halve the number of constituents, halve the district size, and halve the number of staffers on the federal payroll.

Continuing with our rough estimates, expenses should not exceed $365,000 per year. A thousand dollars a day is a lot of money to spend, especially when you consider the following. If each Congressman was allotted $365,000 per year, that would put the overall cost of each Congressman at $523,100. At that price and using our $577 million total-cost-of-Congress figure from above, we can afford 1,103 Representatives. That is nearly 2.5 times the Representatives! We could increase the total number of Representatives even further by decreasing their salaries to a more reasonable figure.

So, with 1,103 Representatives, would we be better represented? Well, using the census figure from earlier, the average Representative would have a constituent base totaling 267,764– quite a considerable difference compared to two-thirds of a million people. In theory, that would mean better representation for the average citizen.

A congressman could definitely manage with a constituent base of that size with two staffers supplemented with interns. If anything, it would be a lesson in time and financial management. If they can’t manage their own time and money effectively, the likelihood that they can manage our money effectively is quite small.

We are under-represented and over-governed. Maybe this would help.

One thought on “Let’s talk numbers

  1. Mike, I couldn’t agree more. I have been making this argument for years and of course it usually gets received like a fart in church. “More politicians!” Go the answer. “Are you crazy? The problem with this country is the politicians.” But, as you point out with the statistics above, we are already paying for people in jobs in the House that could be removed from House members’ staffs. They are doing the work of the House presently and nobody elected them.

    With so many people being represented by a single Congressperson, we individually have less of a voice with our representative. Smaller districts increase the likelihood of personal contact with your representative and perhaps even a mini-revolution in input by the common person.

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