Txting 2 Cut Gov't

The GOP launches a new site to allow citizens to vote on defunding pork


Keen-eyed, youthful Republicans have noticed that kids these days love sending $10 to Haiti and voting on American Idol and sexting and stuff. So Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and a few of the other less aged fiscally conservative members of Congress recently hatched a scheme to get Americans to use their powerful texting thumbs to cut government. Launched today, YouCut lets all comers vote each week on which program Republicans will bring to the floor for a vote on whether or not it gets the axe. On Monday, they'll announce the winner/loser of the first vote and bring it to the floor sometime in the next couple of days. Cantor says they're going to repeat the experiment every week, too.

This week's mix is a nice assortment of WTF programs, such as:

Presidential Election Fund
$260 million in savings
This federal program provides matching funds to political candidates during Presidential primaries, certain third-party candidates, and funds for political conventions. In the 2008 presidential election, the candidates raised over $1.3 billion from individuals and PACs, do they really need to supplement that with taxpayer money? This proposal has been estimated to save $260 million over five years.

Want to kill it? Click here or text YOUCUT1 to 68398.

Plus some proposals for cuts that are a little more substantive:

New Non-Reformed Welfare Program
$2.5 billion in savings
The program was recently created to incentivize states to increase their welfare caseloads without requiring able-bodied adults to work, get job training, or otherwise prepare to move off of taxpayer assistance. Reforming the welfare program was one of the great achievements of the mid 1990s, saving taxpayers billions of dollars and ending the cycle of dependency on welfare. This new program, created in 2009 is a backdoor way to undo those reforms. The program currently costs approximately $2.5 billion a year. (Also proposed as part of the RSC Sunset Caucus.)

Want to kill it? Click here or text YOUCUT4 to 68398.

This is a nice gambit in an election year where increasing numbers of voters say they are worried about the size of government. After all, it's not grandstanding if The People sent you to the floor to make a fuss about Democratic pet programs, right? There's no need to worry that Republicans will run out of dumb, unfair, or pointless programs to include on each week's list.

As it happens, the folks behind YouCut just happen to have a list handpicked by some of the House's more committed porkbusters. Three of the five proposals are already part of the Sunset Caucus—a B-Team of anti-pork Republicans formed last summer out of the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee. Membership in the Sunset Caucus requires each member to pick a federal program and make it his personal mission to defund, sunset, or otherwise axe spending for that project.

Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) head up the caucus, and it's entertaining to imagine other members, like Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), or Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), bringing them little bits of dead federal programs to meetings as tributes, like cats bring dead mice to their owners. The guys and gals (hey Michelle Bachmann!) working on the YouCut project call themselves the House Economic Recovery Working Group, an ad hoc group which seems to have a lot of overlap with the Republican Study Committee and the Sunset Caucus, based on the proposals.

Assuming the site will continue to crib from Sunset Caucus pet projects, expect to see slice-and-dice options ranging from elimination of Amtrak subsidies to the repeal of Davis-Bacon to shearing farm subsidies for mohair. Other targets may include the International Fund for Ireland, Education Department Attache in Paris, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and everybody's favorite whaling cultural exchange program: the Educational, Cultural, Apprenticeship, and Exchange Programs for Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Their Historical Trading Partners in Massachusetts.

It also remains to be seen how seriously Republicans will take these votes. Cantor may actually give away the game a bit when he suggests in his intro video that House Republicans should use their floor time for YouCut proposals instead of "naming post offices." That suggests that the weekly votes on cuts could be little more than symbolic gestures most of the time; vague protests without much firepower behind them.

If Republicans take back the House this November—and many predict they will—this project is likely to fall by the wayside almost immediately. After all, if you're the party in power, you don't want to maintain a website devoted to skewering the party in power for failing to enact real change on spending issues. Still, in his intro video, Cantor cops to the fact that Republicans are to blame for much of the spending: "Washington has a spending problem, and both Democrats and Republicans bear some responsibility," a message which is in keeping with the Republican Study Committee's history as dissidents within their own party.

Pork can be a red herring, of course. (Cue images of pickled fish-pig hybrid…sorry about that.) No amount of trimming the fat will deal with the looming entitlement crisis. A true embrace of the participatory power of online and mobile technologies would involve giving people more input than gimmicky election year voting on a small slate of handpicked cuts. And polls of Tea Party protesters show that even committed government shrinkers don't respond well when you ask them to name specific programs they'd like to defund. But even if none of the proposed cuts actually pass, substituting post office naming B.S. for pork trimming B.S. is a change for the better.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a senior editor at Reason magazine.