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GOP's YouCut: A push for fiscal responsibility or just a gimmick?

Republican Whip Eric Cantor introducing YouCut on a YouTube video.

WASHINGTON — With one eye on the deficit and another on the November elections, a group of House Republicans including Erik Paulsen this week rolled out a new website that’s a cross between "American Idol" and fiscally conservative fiscal policy.

Democrats had a simpler name for it — gimmick — though if a similar vote this week is any indication, the program could become a thorn in their side from now until November.

It’s part of the political silly season in the run-up to November’s midterm elections, where Republicans hope to force vulnerable Democrats to take tough votes, while Democrats hope to help those same vulnerable members offer popular amendments to shore up support back home.

The GOP’s YouCut website allows users to vote on the spending restrictions and cuts they want to see Congress make. It’s anything from forbidding federal workers from union activities while on the clock to eliminating the presidential election matching fund.

The "winner" will be featured in a procedural test vote that Republicans plan to force next week.

Rep. Erik Paulsen
paulsen.house.gov
Rep. Erik Paulsen

“Maybe they’ve outlived their usefulness,” Paulsen said of the programs. “It’s drawing a little more attention to that, and I think forcing folks to justify their means is a good thing.

“I wish we would have been doing it six months ago,” Paulsen said, dismissing the Democrats’ charge of gimmickry. “I would hope that this would continue not just now but all the way after the next election.”

Democrats were quick to point out that deficits increased when Republicans had control of Congress and the White House, and that the proposed cuts totaled “less than one tenth of 1 percent” of the federal budget.

“Maybe Republicans were sick the day they taught math in school, but their efforts at fiscal responsibility don’t even begin to make a dent in the enormous deficit racked up under their control,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement.

The corollary to forcing tough votes on your opponents is where the majority party allows its most vulnerable members to add politically popular amendments so they’ll have specific accomplishments to point to when asked by voters back home why they should be returned to Congress.

That effort was in full swing this week, as Democrats offered a raft of 54 amendments (more than two dozen of those from lawmakers in marginal constituencies) to a science jobs bill.

In the end, however, that bill didn’t even make it through a final vote.

Using the same procedural tactic they’ll use next week for their first YouCut winner, the GOP on Thursday forced a vote on a motion to ban funding the salaries of people who view pornography on government computers, as well as ban funding schools that don’t allow military recruiters on campus.

The Republican motion passed overwhelmingly and, in a preview of what may yet come, Democrats were forced to shelve their bill and, along with it, all the amendments their vulnerable members had gotten approved.

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Comments (5)

Gimmick? Only if used as one, which the cynic in me says is inevitable.

People are capable of suggesting savings. Many suggestions, however, will be dismissed immediately as politically difficult (if not impossible). One that comes to mind:

End or reduce tax subsidies to non-profit organizations, including such things as reduced postal rates (currently 1/2 of the bulk rate charged to others), property tax exemptions and exemption from participating in the Social Security system. Yes, it will increase their costs. But if an organization cannot exist without a tax subsidy, should it survive? I think not.

Let government tax expenditures be made as the result of conscious choices by elected officials, not by default.

Perhaps Paulsen could cut wasteful government by cutting the spending he does through his use of the Franking Privilege.

Paulsen, last year, spent more taxpayer money on mailers, etc, than all but two House Members in Congress. All but two.

Paulsen spent more taxpayer money than 432 other Representatives - Paulsen spent a total of $413,996.12.

Another gimmick to harvest email addresses. Also reading the comments on the site suggests a low intelligence by the people commenting, e.g.
"Your in a fight for America's Life." Why are no entitlements in the cutting list? Could it be that entitlement cuts might threaten Republican congressional seats?

The freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, should it come to pass, will trim $250 billion off the cumulative deficit over the next ten years. Over that same period, defense discretionary spending will add $284 billion to the deficit.

It's the difference between global politics as a zero sum game and as a positive sum game. Americans need to be asking hard questions about the growth of the defense sector. So far, they're refusing to do so, even in the face of a looming budget crisis. The reasons for exorbitant US defense expenditures are more domestic than foreign.

The GOP like to predict the quasi-inevitability of an extreme event like US DEFAULT!!!! (the world's economy would be at the point of blow-up if that happens) without once mentioning "taxes".

Setting aside increasing marginal tax rates, we've got a whole lot of "entitlements" sitting in tax expenditures that could do with some major pruning. There are other parts of the federal budget that also could use some cutting. Sec'y Gates just put the DOD's budget on the chopping block. And when it comes to entitlements, Social Security is the very least of our concerns and is easily fixable with minor tweaks. The big problem is health care costs, and once we've had a bit of experience with the HCR system in practice, Congress will be adjusting the new HCR bill regularly, based on how the various experiments in cost control and reduction actually pan out.

The US is certainly going to have to deal with its excessive debt and the fact its deficit is structural -- that's self-evident. And our political system doesn't encourage politicians or voters to take their medicine early. But that doesn't mean that when we get around to facing the music the only choice is to default on Treasuries or on Social Security.

For heaven's sake, there are many roads to addressing debt-reduction that don't involve taking a hatchet to to the benefits people rely on. The goal is to get sufficient political will to tackle the problem from a number of directions at the same time. Like was actually accomplished over the decade from mid-80s (starting with the tax reform act) to the mid-90s.

This GOP campaign is absurd, childish, fact-free propaganda which, while posturing as savvy and cynical, just adds to the immense challenge of assembling a politically viable but credible approach to deficit reduction.