08/07/2011 10:36 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2011

How to Make Congress Really Work

Citing the record disapproval ratings of Congress after the bitter debate over raising the debt ceiling, and the subsequent downgrading of America's credit rating, House and Senate leaders today said they will seek a constitutional amendment to reduce the size of Congress to only 12 members, six from each body.

"We know this is a radical and unprecedented action that will cost most of us our jobs, but it has become all too clear that a 435-member House of Representatives and a 100-member Senate is simply too large and unwieldy," the congressional leaders declared in a joint press conference. "As a result, Congress is unable to fulfill the intention of the Founding Fathers to forge a national consensus on demanding issues.

"Therefore, we are calling on our colleagues in both the House and Senate to support a resolution calling on all Americans to ratify a constitutional amendment to reduce the size of Congress to 12 members, six from the House and six from the Senate.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), noting that Congress would have the same number of members as the new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, said the historic move was regrettable but absolutely necessary. "Obviously, this will mean that most Americans will not have their own representation in Congress, but we believe the enormous savings involved as well as the more efficient legislative process that will result will better serve the American people."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) echoed Boehner, declaring "This may sound like a Las Vegas crap shoot, but there just isn't to be any other way to reign in the extreme behavior and hyper-partisanship of some members of both parties in order to address the most pressing needs of 21st century America."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said, "I fully concur with Speaker Boehner and Senator Reid that this drastic move is the best and only solution to our present dilemma. Admittedly, it's a huge gamble, but it's time for us to double down." And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed, although insisting that one of the 12 new "super members" must be from San Francisco.

Constitutional scholars were quick to object. Thomas Mann, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, denounced the proposed move as "direct threat to the basic principles of American democracy crafted by the Founding Fathers to create a federal government divided into three equal but separate branches." Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute called the proposal "the worst decision since King George III tried to suppress the American Revolution."

Reaction among members of the House and Senate was generally supportive, with some exceptions. "I've been in Congress more than half a century," said Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), elected to the House when Hawaii attained statehood in 1959 and to the Senate in 1962, "and I've never seen a time when Congress was more dysfunctional than now. Maybe it's time to say 'aloha 'oe.'"

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who succeeded his father in 1955 and is the longest serving member of Congress in history, predicted that the proposed constitutional amendment "will meet the same fate as the Edsel," but said "most people in Ypislanti probably think it's a good idea."

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican Tea Party favorite who is running for president, said she would much rather deal with a 12-member Congress as president, while Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said, "If we can't anything done with the present system, maybe it's time to try something else."

But Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), said, "I hate it. I hate it, I hate it with a passion. We are giving away our authority. In a new 12-member Congress, a seven-person vote can change the world."

Not surprisingly, there was little support for the proposed constitutional amendment among Washington's more than 30,000 lobbyists. Thomas Quinn, a leading lobbyist, said it would sound the death knell for his profession. "I might as well go back to Rhode Island and open a bar," he said.