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Cantor Offers GOP New Digital Tools

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has attempted this week to push the Republican Party a little further into the digital era, handing out new gadgets to his colleagues and announcing a new social networking website to get citizen input on spending cuts.

On Tuesday, the Virginia Republican and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) handed out Apple iPod Touches to members of the House Republican whip team as a reward for a job well done, according to GOP sources.

The devices, which act as a combination pocket computer and music player, run from $199 to $399 each according to Cantor and McCarthy bought the gadgets out of their leadership political action committee accounts, and the dozens of Members who received them will declare them as in-kind contributions on their own campaign disclosures forms.

On Wednesday, Cantor and members of the Economic Recovery Working Group launched a new social networking application called YouCut, which will give visitors the opportunity each week to select what government programs are the most wasteful and mark them for elimination.

Each week, visitors to the site will be given five different programs on which to vote. Cantor pledged Republicans will call for an up-or-down vote on the House floor to eliminate the project that gets the most votes.

“This is meant to not only listen to the public as to where they feel their government should be headed, [but] also to begin to change the culture of spending here in Washington,” Cantor said.

Cantor said the list of programs up for the chopping block are made up of Member submissions and those submitted previously to President Barack Obama by Republican leaders as possible cuts to the federal budget.

Democrats mocked the project, noting the program nominated for cuts would trim a tiny fraction of the federal budget.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a member of the working group, said the goal is to eventually incorporate submissions from visitors to the site.

The site will also allow Republicans to build an e-mail address and phone list, but Cantor aides said that they would not be used for political purposes.

“What we hope to do with this information is to keep people engaged with the process of YouCut,” said Matt Lira, Cantor’s director of new media. “I don’t think these people will be getting press releases anytime soon.”

Lira said, “This is about what we can do today as Representatives elected today and how can we use technology to provide meaningful experiences now.”

The YouCut website and the iPod Touch are only the latest efforts by the House Republican leadership to create an interactive approach to governing.

“What Obama did in 2008 was validating to a lot of people that technology, especially the new media, needs to be taken seriously,” Lira said. “Being in the minority has improved that hunger, especially in being innovative.”

In two weeks, McCarthy will launch a website that will serve as a key part of the process to craft a new GOP agenda initiative known as the “Commitment to America.”

The site, complete with a cell phone application, will allow citizens to submit ideas that they believe should be incorporated into the new Republican agenda.

Those ideas will then be debated online in a public forum.

The Commitment to America phone application will be the second launched by McCarthy and Cantor. Their WhipCast app, which provides a daily rundown of the House schedule, news articles and polling data, has received 20,000 downloads since it launched last year, according to Lira.

Republicans are looking for ways “to be innovative and to find new ways to communicate, and beyond communicate, interact with the American people,” Lira said.

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