Congress should take citizen input seriously 

August recess is right around the corner for Congress. It’s traditionally the time of year when elected representatives return home to hear from constituents about what’s on their minds. For years, it was one of the only ways for Americans to share their thoughts about government.

Not anymore. Thanks to the efforts of House Republicans, citizens across America can influence the debate in Congress with a few keyboard strokes and clicks of the mouse.

The times they are a-changin’. Two projects launched in recent months by Republicans have given individual Americans the tools to offer ideas about legislation and to suggest wasteful programs that deserve to be cut. They’re called America Speaking Out and YouCut. Over the past few months, they’ve begun to alter the image of an out-of-touch GOP.

Two of the GOP’s rising stars, Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Peter Roskam (Ill.), spoke at The Bloggers Briefing today about their efforts to solicit input from the American people and how it’s changing the mentality on Capitol Hill.

“I have a promise for every one of you,” Roskam said. “In 20 years, we're all going to be doing something different. Every person in this room is going to reflect back and say I was there in 2010 when things changed. We're going to be telling stories about being there.”

Congress is accustomed to one-way communication. Members like holding a megaphone and making their stump speech. McCarthy and Roskam, both elected in 2006, are among a handful of young Republicans trying to change that perception.

Take the YouCut project, for example. Launched by Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in May, the idea is to collect suggestions of wasteful government spending, put those suggestions to the public and then force the House to take an up-or-down vote.

This week the choices are 1) eliminating unnecessary congressional printing, 2) cutting the "Dodd Clinic" earmark from Obamacare, 3) prohibiting first-class subsidies on Amtrak, 4) reforming the Energy Star program, and 5) preventing LIHEAP payments to individuals who are dead, incarcerated, or don't meet income requirements.

For anyone who doesn’t think it’s legit, Cantor’s office filmed a meeting of Republican congressmen debating the ideas submitted by constituents. In fact, some of the ideas up for a vote this week were debated by the congressmen sitting around the table in Cantor’s office.

So far more than 75,000 ideas have flowed to YouCut and more than 1 million votes cast. Citizens who submit an suggestion could have their idea reach the House floor in a matter of weeks. That’s having an impact -- even if a majority of Democrats don’t support it.

America Speaking Out embraces the same approach to spur a conversation between members of Congress and citizens. It uses cutting-edge technology from Microsoft to create an open forum of ideas. It then provides users with an opportunity to vote on those suggestions.

The enthusiasm McCarthy and Roskam displayed at today’s Bloggers Briefing represented an encouraging sign that some members of Congress recognize the value of giving the public a more significant say about government. That’s a positive development regardless of political party.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

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