How to rein in spending and ramp up the conversation

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Two weeks ago, House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor launched his new “YouCut” program—an experimental platform by which citizens can go to his website and each week chose from different programs they think should no longer be funded by the federal government.

In the first week, the people had spoken—280,000 votes strong—and chose to cut the Emergency Contingency Fund for State TANF Programs, an emergency welfare fund that Cantor says undoes many of the welfare reforms enacted in the 1990s.

While the YouCut program is in one sense an overly dramatic stunt, it demonstrates two things that must be harnessed for this year’s midterm election: the traditional Republican value of restraining (out-of-control) spending and the new technique of driving grassroots support via successful online engagement.

With partisan politics poisoning the legislative process, the GOP must take a hard look at its foundations and ensure it returns to solid, attractive core values that truly make it the Grand Old Party. One of those tenets is the ability to control the growth of runaway federal spending in order to help create jobs and get the economy back on track. Cantor is wisely making this a large part of the minority’s platform. Democrats have noted, in response to YouCut, that the chosen program hardly makes a dent in either the budget or the deficit. Although their math may be correct, they ignore that voters are drawn to symbols and mind-sets.

Adding new technology to traditional values will make for a winning combination – utilizing new media tools and tactics to offer a platform for citizens’ voices to be heard allows voters to more directly participate in their government and its decisions. Republicans in both the House and Senate leadership continue to ramp up the online conversation on key issues and initiatives allowing Members of Congress to talk with, rather than at, constituents and voters.

This new dynamic and platforms such as YouCut have given a louder megaphone to citizens in the legislative and electoral debate and allows citizens to directly engage with policymakers on important legislative issues. Republican Members of Congress and candidates must continue to step up efforts to use new and social media to appeal to voters, bypass the liberal media bias, and enhance their chances of making a comeback in November. In essence, this delivers a feeling of direct democracy within our representative democracy.

This year’s election cycle will certainly be a mix of old and new – old values, new tools; Republicans need to get back to basics, but tell the story in a whole new way.

Erica Fitzsimmons is a Director at The Herald Group, a Washington, DC based public affairs firm. You can follow her on Twitter at @efitzsimmons.