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'Job-Killing' or 'Anti-Environment?' House Dems, GOP Turn Online to Frame Regulation Debate

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, September 14 2011

Rep. Henry Waxman, the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has launched a searchable database of votes on environmental issues by the 112th Congress — an attempt to push back on Republican castigations of the Environmental Protection Agency and its regulations as "job-killing" by making the argument that the GOP-controlled House is empirically "anti-environment."

From the New York Times' Green blog:

While you could piece together the votes through other public records, the database makes it easy. “We do want a record of what the House Republican agenda is, very clearly stated so people can see it one spot,” said Karen L. Lightfoot, spokeswoman for Mr. Waxman.

The database details the 125 votes taken to by the House and makes them searchable in numerous ways like environmental category, congressional district or agency. For example, there are tallies of votes under headers like “Votes to Dismantle the Clean Air Act.” (There have been 28, by Representative Waxman’s count).

The web application pushes to the Web an Excel spreadsheet built by Democratic staffers on the Energy & Commerce Committee. It breaks down bills, amendments and votes by topic, statute and agency, sure — but unless "contaminant load levels for the Chesapeake Bay," "Office of Surface Mining rules" or "climate change adaptation" mean anything to you, none of the data presented is of immediate interest.

But the database does footnote Waxman's claim — House Republicans are anti-environment, my staff can count 125 votes proving this — in a new and different way, something an audience of wonks would appreciate.

Meanwhile, House Republicans standing on exactly the opposite side of this fight are leaning on crowdsourced narratives from Americans as part of their anti-regulation push. House Republican staffers from several offices — working for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Darrell Issa's staff on the powerful Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — have built themselves online tools to collect and share stories from constituents. Republican staffers are beginning to produce videos like this one from participants in that process:

On one end is a web site to collect stories from business owners. It prompts them with questions like, "how is government holding your business back?" When the project was launched, it was conceived as a tool that any Republican member of the House could use to collect stories from constituents, some of which might later appear as part of speeches on the House floor, for example. On the other end are outputs like this video, one of two I found so far. House Oversight staff last week also released a long article about another "job creator" participant that read like it might belong in a sort of Bizarro Mother Jones. It provided exactly the type of vignette you might find in a MoJo story on the environment or on business, but told from the business owner's perspective instead of the point of view of workers or neighbors.

This isn't to say that House Republicans have created a media sensation, either — the video above has only 109 views as I write.

If you're involved in an online communications effort around President Barack Obama's jobs proposals, or economic reform legislation generally, let us know what you're doing.