As part of their ongoing project to craft a new Republican agenda, House GOP leaders have asked for input from everywhere — regular citizens, online activists and national party leaders — and now they are surveying themselves.
Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) last week asked Republican Members to fill out a three-page “private survey” reporting what constituents have told them are the most important issues facing the country.
The poll is part of the America Speaking Out project, a multipronged effort launched by House Republican leaders in May to gather ideas for their new agenda from citizens around the country.
Republicans expect to release the final policy document in September.
Many of the survey’s questions mirror topics addressed on the project’s website, AmericaSpeakingOut.com, where visitors can submit and debate policy solutions.
“What are some ideas or solutions you have heard on how Congress can best help encourage private sector job creation?” one survey question asks Members.
“Given that spending and the size of the government are recurring themes on America Speaking Out, what are some of the best solutions you are hearing on how to rein in runaway spending?” asks another.
Another question asks Members to list specific procedural reforms that Republicans should enact. GOP Members have advocated reforms of the legislative process in order to give the minority party more rights to review and amend bills, an issue that became a sore subject for Republicans who felt they had no meaningful input on the health care reform bill.
On the last page of the survey, Members who want to offer a “specific proposal” are invited to “submit a one-page document on the idea.”
“The one-page must include a purpose (what problem are you solving?), a summary (what are you doing to solve it?), and background (other relevant information),” the survey said.
A copy of the survey obtained by Roll Call asks Members to return the completed questionnaire to McCarthy or the deputy whip’s office by July 2, the first day of the weeklong July Fourth recess.
McCarthy, who was tapped by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to lead the agenda initiative earlier this year, said the purpose of the survey was simply to collect as much information as possible for the agenda project.
“You may get 1,000 people at a town hall meeting, but how many people will raise their hand?” McCarthy said. “This gives everybody in the conference the ability, equally, to express what they are hearing in their district.”
McCarthy said Members have been bombarded with ideas from their constituents during town halls throughout the past few weeks.
Asking Members to write down the ideas they have heard, he said, allows them to step back and prioritize the issues that matter most to their constituents at home.
“I may have heard of 500 things at town hall meeting … but this is the overriding message and the top issues, so what it also does is make people emphasize the priority and prioritize the issues for each district,” McCarthy said.
Some Members were not amused by the homework assignment and quietly wondered about the purpose of filling out the survey.
“I can’t get excited about it,” said one Member, who shook his head and laughed when asked about the questionnaire.
Another Member had not looked at the document and questioned what it added to the process.
A third quipped that the “one page” proposal sounded a lot like another document: “a bill.”
Others argued the survey was a valuable part of the information gathering process.
“It’s what we are supposed to be doing, no question about it,” Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) said. “A lot of it may not have surprises but it’s important to verify the comments on [the website].”
Another lawmaker added that it was a good idea to survey Members on their thoughts, even if the answers that leadership receives aren’t exactly revolutionary.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the structure that the survey provides gives leaders a clearer picture of what issues are being talked about in each Congressional district.
“The difference between doing a survey and getting anecdotal remarks from Members is the survey doesn’t have any prejudice,” Issa said. “Basically it stands on its own.”