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GOP Whip's "YouCut" Makes Its House Floor Debut

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, May 21 2010

Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-VA) YouCut project has, since launch, been much maligned, and, as I've written, not entirely without reason. For a week now, the great unelected masses have been voting in Cantor's official Republican Whip website (or by mobile phone) for which government programs they'd most liked axed. Yesterday, YouCut made it to the House floor, and the winner indeed got a vote of sorts, through a backdoor procedural maneuver. Heat, and perhaps a little light, followed.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, denounced what he saw as the "American Idol"-ization of our honorable representative democracy. Who, wondered Hastings, might be voting in this Internet thing? Perhaps public enemy number #1? Cantor's office pounced, slapping a clip up on YouTube with the title, "Rep. Hastings Attacks YouCut Participants, Claims Bin Laden Link?" The question mark, no doubt, made Hastings feel much better. Later, on the House floor, Cantor played Ryan Seacrest, reading out the names and particulars of the five spending programs on the chopping block for next week's round of YouCut.

It wasn't, perhaps, the republic's most noble hour. But as a day in the life of our House of Representatives, it wasn't so terrible, either. From Cantor's perspective, it wasn't the least bit awful.

The phrase "YouCut" poured forth from the lips of Reps. Hensarling, Miller (MI), Price, and Neugebaur, and others I no doubt missed in the Congressional Record, raising the question, has an experiment in distributed citizen engagement ever been so discussed in that hallowed space? Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer dismissed YouCut as a gimmick. He chided Cantor for -- appropriating a phrase from American Enterprise Institute's conservative commenter Norm Ornstein from the day before -- forcing a "hollow vehicle and farce" on the house. But it did have the effect of drawing Hoyer into debate.

Let's legislate for reals, Hoyer urged, which led him into suggesting to the chamber that he'd much rather given consideration to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's hefty proposed budget: "I think it intellectually is an honest, effective proposal to deal with a very serious problem...not a little problem that sounds good in sound bites but is not going to get us to where we need to be."

Cantor's office, not unexpectedly, is declaring the first round of YouCut a success. More than 280,000 people voted, they report, with 81,000 votes picking the winner (loser?): the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund, a five-billion dollar Recovery Act block grant program. Seven Blue Dogs and a like-minded soul joined the entirety of the Republican caucus in voting to cut TANF. Cantor's new media director Matt Lira called yesterday's YouCut moment, "the most direct use of technology to establish a more direct democracy in the history of the federal legislature."

Round two of YouCut has already begun.