House Republicans want Americans to suggest and debate government policies on a new website, America Speaking Out
. But only the ideas that conform to longstanding GOP principles -- smaller government, lower taxes, less spending -- will be considered for what the GOP calls a governing agenda and critics are calling taxpayer-subsidized politics.
The project chairman, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said America Speaking Out will showcase "the common voice of the common man" and gather ideas "from all corners of America." People are free to suggest things like tax increases, he said, but those won't make it into legislation or a governing agenda.
In a measure of the importance they put on the project, the seven top House Republicans gathered Tuesday at the Newseum to announce it. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana said he picked the setting "because of what's written on the front of this building" (the First Amendment and its clause about citizens having the right to petition their government) and because of the symbolism of being a few blocks from Capitol Hill. The best ideas are out in America, he said, "not in that Capitol."
There was plenty of bashing of Democrats in Congress and the agenda they developed "in the backroom in secrecy with just a handful of leaders," as Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan put it, and lots of vows that Republicans, by contrast, would listen to the people. The website requires users to register and pick avatars (a selection of races is available). A point system and "activity badges" will "incentivize" people to participate, said Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois. Only civil dialogue will make it onto the site.
The Sunlight Foundation, whose aim is to make government more accountable and transparent, gave the GOP credit for creating a new avenue for listening
. Liberals, however, said the project was prep work for a campaign document
on the lines of the 1994 Contract With America. The Democratic National Committee spent the day accusing the GOP of making taxpayers foot the bill for their political activity.
The Republican leaders, some of whom have mentioned September (the traditional kickoff month for fall campaigns) as a target date for compiling their agenda, insisted Tuesday that it's all about policy, not politics. They said they would start using ideas from the website as soon as possible, on the House floor and in other settings. If there is another campaign style contract, they said, it will be separate from this project.
One reporter at Tuesday's event wondered why the website address was dot-com instead of dot-gov. McCarthy said the House GOP wanted a website that was more high-tech and secure than government technology would allow.
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