Republicans unveil YouCut II, now with real legislative power

Jonathan Strong Jonathan Strong, 27, is a reporter for the Daily Caller covering Congress. Previously, he was a reporter for Inside EPA where he wrote about environmental regulation in great detail, and before that a staffer for Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). Strong graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in political science in 2006. He is a huge fan of and season ticket holder to the Washington Capitals hockey team. Strong and his wife reside in Arlington.
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Republicans will unveil Wednesday YouCut, the sequel, their newly-improved crowd-sourced spending cuts program that allows Americans to vote online for which bloated bureaucracy ought to get the ax.

Now, the stakes are real. The “winning” government program each week will more than likely actually get a House vote to cut its funding, sending the proposal over to the Senate, where Republicans hope public participation will spur action there.

“The biggest difference will be we’ll actually get a chance to get ’em passed,” freshman GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney, one of three freshman hand-picked by Majority Leader Eric Cantor to coordinate the program, told The Daily Caller.

Cantor is handing over YouCut to the freshmen, giving them a place to channel the Tea Party energy that swept Republicans into power. Highlighting government’s embarrassing excesses could also give the GOP political momentum at key moments in the more important debt ceiling and appropriations debates.

Mulvaney of South Carolina, freshman class president Austin Scott of Georgia and Renee Ellmers of North Carolina are in charge. Each week they’ll coordinate which freshmen representative gets to choose three government programs from which online voters will decide what they’d like to see cut.

Voting lasts a week, unless Congress is in recess, and the freshman congressman choosing the programs to be voted on will introduce the legislation that would cut its funding.

Republicans also hope a revamped website that allows users to track the progress of each YouCut-inspired bill through Congress will attract participation, though even in the last Congress it was robust, with an average of 500,000 votes each round. This time Republicans would like to get 1 million votes each round.

“This updated version builds upon the success of the original YouCut program by allowing Americans to vote on a spending cut, and track the legislation in real-time, from introduction by a member of our freshman class, through the committee process, to a floor vote and ideally to enactment,” Cantor said.

Mulvaney, Scott and Ellmers said their hope is that by giving the public such an active role, they’ll transform the political discussion into focusing more on cuts.

In that sense, it’s less important what the dollar figure is for the total spending cuts.

“Success for YouCut II has really got more to do with the public participation and having them engage in the process of reducing federal spending, duplicative programs, and things that the federal government shouldn’t be spending money on … that is as important if not more important as the total dollar figure of the cuts,” Scott said.

“Changing minds is the most difficult thing of all,” Ellmers said, “we’ve changed the conversation here in Washington for week after week to conversation about cuts. Even our president is talking about cuts!”

When Cantor introduced YouCut in the last Congress, Republicans used their few-and-far between opportunities to force votes on the House floor on cutting some of the programs online voters thought should go.

Then, Democrats said it was just a “gimmick” because the amount of the cuts are tiny compared to the federal budget.

Or, as Mulvaney put it, “if you came in tomorrow with some program that saved $1.6 million, and that was our YouCut thing for the week, you would have to do that a million times just to balance the budget.”

“Well, that’s fine. Lets get started,” Scott said, “We didn’t get into this situation overnight. And we’re not gonna get out of it overnight. Nobody’s gonna wave a magic wand one night and we’re gonna wake up tomorrow and everything’s gonna be OK fiscally.”

This Congress, Republicans have already taken some of the winning YouCut proposals to the House floor and passed legislation cutting funding for those programs.

For instance, in January the House passed a bill to eliminate the unnecessary printing of new bills that lawmakers introduce.

Under federal law, the Government Printing Office prints and delivers a printed copy of every new bill introduced in Congress, at a cost of $7 million a year. Almost all — 13,683 in the last Congress — end up in the trash. But worst of all, the bills are all available online.

The House passed a bill ending this practice by a vote of 399-0 in January, but so far the Senate hasn’t lifted a finger to help.

The trio of freshmen hope the new, improved YouCut will help catalyze Senate action on non-controversial proposals like that.

“When someone can see that what their recommendation was on eliminating a wasteful program or a wasteful expense was – actually goes through the House of Representatives and passes, through the committee and the full House floor, and then goes to the Senate. And they have the ability to reach out to the senators and again, ask the senators to justify the expenditure if they won’t vote to cut it,” Scott said.

But even with YouCut, and the nation fixated on public debt like never before, it’s still a daunting challenge trying to cut the government down to size.

Asked what most surprised Mulvaney about Washington, he said it was just how bad the deficits really are and how massive the government is.

“Did you know that we spend a million dollars on mohair subsidies? There’s no reason for you to know that. No normal human being would ever know that. The exchange programs for Alaska native Hawaiians and their historical trading partners in Massachusetts is $9 million a year. There’s no way for an ordinary human being to know that the federal government does that,” Mulvaney said.