House Republicans are looking for a few good ideas from Americans — as long as they’re Republican ideas. At a flashy media event at the Newseum this morning, House GOP leadership formally introduced AmericaSpeakingOut.com, a new campaign that the leaders said will invite average Americans to submit their ideas for legislation, and that the leaders said they’ll bring to the floor as soon as next month.
The project is funded by taxpayer dollars and run by the House GOP. That has raised criticism from Democratic circles, who claim the program amounts to campaigning on the public dime. House Republicans pushed back at the event today, saying the program was designed to create legislation for this Congress, and that campaign-focused policy initiatives will come later.
“We are looking for ideas today to face the challenges of today,” Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) told reporters.Pence is right up to a point. The gathered Republican leaders at the event said they will use social media portals (as well as accompanying traditional town halls) to start a dialogue about finding solutions to the country’s problems — but they also said they will reject out of hand any idea that doesn’t fit in with the House GOP’s principles, as spelled out on the site’s front page.
“If someone wants to come in and offer solutions about how to raise taxes, they’re welcome to do so,” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) said. “But that’s not something we’re going to take up.”
Even with that caveat, the Republicans said that the new project shows the House GOP is open to the ideas of the average Joe than their colleagues on Democratic side of the aisle are.
“House Republicans want to tap into the inherent good sense of Americans,” Rep. Candace Miller (R-MI) said. She explained that Democrats have “not engaged with Americans” as they “developed their agenda in a backroom with just a handful of leaders.”
AmericaSpeakingOut is, the Republicans say, the polar opposite of that legislative vision. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said the project makes public participation in the House GOP legislative agenda “as easy as sending a text or going on Facebook.” The site uses all the predictable social tech to create forums and online conversations about public views.
In essence, users will upload their legislative ideas directly to House Republicans by means of an online forum. Other users will then comment on the plans, vote on them and House Republicans will select from the ideas to create legislation.
McCarthy said the idea came from the town hall meetings of last year, when, he said, the public started reengaging with their government to protest the Democratic agenda. He said the website hopes to recapture that energy for the purposes of drafting legislation this year — as soon as “the next several weeks.”
Unlike those town halls, however, the GOP will be censoring what the public can say on their website. “Foul language” and “ad hominem attacks” are automatically booted from the site, the Republicans said, and a staff of administrators will do, as Reskam said, “some monitoring from a common sense point of view.”
As is standard procedure with any social media project these days, many of the questions from reporters focused on privacy issues. Republican leaders said they will not sell any users’ information, nor will they use the list they develop for political purposes.
And seeing as this is a flashy policy program rolled out just a few months before a major election, much of the focus from reporters was on how the site was paid for. House Minority Leader Boehner told reporters that the site was paid for out of members’ personal budgets, and that it was not intended as a campaign program. The GOP has faced criticism from Democrats who say the House GOP is using public funds for campaign activity.
Boehner assured skeptical reporters that the GOP will likely roll out an agenda for the next Congress a la the 1994 Contract With America, but AmericaSpeakingOut.com is not it.
“Apart from this, Republicans are in discussions to present our plans for the future,” he said. Boehner said that the new project and those discussions are “very separate.”
Note: This post has been updated.