Making More of the House

Throughout the 2012 political season, attention was fixed on the contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney.  A few other races garnered some media attention, but Americans treated the presidential election as the Super Bowl of politics.  The winner, we were told, would chart the nation’s future.

Largely lost in the presidential hype were the biennial elections for the House of Representatives.  Every two years Americans trudge to the polls and select a federal representative.  These representatives, unlike the president, actually have the power to originate legislation.  The president can recommend that certain policies assume legislative form, but without action from a member of the House or Senate nothing will move forward.  The president might opine that tax rates should be raised or lowered on a certain class of citizens, but under the Constitution only the House of Representatives can originate revenue bills.

In light of these civics basics, one would think that House races should have dominated the political discussion.  But from local diners to talk-radio shows, Americans preferred to chatter about the White House.  Incumbency rates are indicative of this indifference to the House of Representatives.  Since 1998, the incumbency rate for the House has dipped below 94 percent just once (85 percent in 2010).  This has been a steady pattern going back several...

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