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Only 213 More Seats to Go

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Back in May, our Lee Drutman asked if the U.S. House of Representatives was too small. Not physically, but in the number of representatives.

The political scientists he spoke to considered making the 435-seat chamber home to around 650 politicians. A move is afoot to enlarge the House, advancing it from 435 to ... 437. OK, it's not quite the dramatic gesture suggested by folks like Arend Lijphart or Brian Frederick, but it's a start.

The extra two pols would come from the District of Columbia, which currently has no voting member of Congress, and Utah, which narrowly lost gaining a fourth representative after 2000 redistricting. While the real goal of the measure is to give D.C. a vote, since it's so reliably Democratic the political calculus required a balancing GOP seat — hence a district in Utah, which gave Barack Obama but 34 percent of its popular vote in November. It's Talmudic lawmaking filtered through the Missouri Compromise.

This isn't a done deal, and as reliably Republican Orrin Hatch told The Washington Post, "The question is whether there will be an attempt to foul it up by amending it."

And after passage, should that occur, it faces inevitable court challenges from opponents who say only a constitutional amendment can give D.C. the vote. The U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States," and the district isn't, well, a state. Neither are Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts or Kentucky — technically they're commonwealths, not states — but that hasn't stopped them. Of course there's a Potter Stewart-y kind of distinction there of knowing a state when you see one.

(It's not like this ground hasn't been trod before. The last time someone tinkered with the District's voting status was 1961, when the 23rd Amendment gave it three electoral votes. As The American Spectator wittily reminds us of Joe Sobran: "The U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government.")

But rather than see the chamber half empty, or  213/650 empty, as the case may be, let's look at it as a small step toward the uber-House of our dreams. Or of someone's dreams. "You're asking people to support more politicians, to pay more salary and to many people, that may not be an easy cost to bear," Frederick told us last year.