Skip to main content

Will Republicans listen to America?

By Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Special to CNN
  • Republicans launch website to seek ideas from the public on policies
  • Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz says GOP isn't really interested in the public's ideas
  • She says Republicans have advocated an agenda that serves business, but not the public at large
  • Website "intended to overshadow their record of failure"

Editor's note: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents the 20th District of Florida and is a chief deputy whip for the Democratic majority in the House. For a Republican point of view, click here

Washington (CNN) -- Democracy is all about listening to the voters, and anything that makes that easier is good for democracy. But who are Republicans listening to?

As The Washington Post reported this weekend, "Top Republican lawmakers [are appealing] more directly to corporate leaders, putting them on notice that the GOP is keeping track of the corporate donations ledger and will remember who stood by the party."

So while Republicans are getting press this week for taking public input on their election platform via the taxpayer-funded "America Speaking Out" website, the novelty is somewhat overstated. Republicans have been letting other people write their platform for some time now -- the insurance companies, the oil industry, and the banks. The Republican Party represents the interests of the corporations that fund it, and no new website can change that underlying fact.

To be sure, listening to the public is essential, and new communications technologies are keeping representatives in Washington in constant touch with the people who sent them there. We don't just hold town hall meetings every time we travel back to our districts; we also run "telephone town halls" to take questions from thousands of constituents in their own homes. We reach out every day on Facebook and Twitter, too.

In fact, House Democrats are holding a contest to find the representative who can attract the most Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube followers over two weeks, because having a virtual one-on-one with more Americans -- especially the growing number who use the Internet as their primary news source -- is a crucial part of our Democratic commitment to transparency and communication.

But listening isn't enough, unless we take what we hear to heart: The success of these communication tools is ultimately measured in their real impact on policy. So what's important isn't Republicans' very pretty website -- it is what they would actually do with the power they're so desperate to get back. And we know the answer to that question.

We've seen it every time they've opposed a job creation measure or backed the interests of Wall Street over Main Street. Republicans have made it clear that they would return to the policies they pursued the last time they were in power, and we know what happened to the middle class then.

In power, Republicans increased spending and wiped out the biggest surplus in American history. They borrowed more foreign money than the previous 42 presidential administrations put together. They gave the privileged debt-financed tax cuts, while middle-class incomes stagnated. They presided over health care costs that doubled, while millions lost their insurance.

According to the inspector general of the Interior Department, employees who were supposed to be preventing offshore oil spills repeatedly accepted gifts from oil and gas companies during the Bush administration, including tickets to major sporting events, passes to golf tournaments, and hunting and fishing trips.

Republicans also turned a blind eye to Wall Street's gambling habit and left us with the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression. In the month President Bush left office, America lost nearly 800,000 jobs.

Political stunts like the new website are intended to overshadow their record of failure. But again, it's actions that matter: Are Republicans any better friends of the middle class today than they were during the lost decade of the 2000s?

If so, why did House Republicans all vote against the Recovery Act, which cut taxes for 98 percent of working families and is responsible for up to 2 million jobs? Why did they take the side of insurance companies and stand unanimously against guaranteed health care for every American?

Why did they stand with the banks against the biggest (tax-free and deficit-neutral) investment in student aid in history? Why did the same Republican leaders trumpeting America Speaking Out meet openly with powerful financial industry leaders, in an ongoing effort to water down Wall Street reform legislation?

Actions speak louder than websites. Republican actions speak clearly of neglect of the middle class and of fiscal discipline. And gimmicky messaging can't change that fact, no matter how often they talk about fiscal responsibility after bankrupting our country, or call Wall Street reform a "bailout" after taking the financial referees off of the field.

In the same way, Republicans' rhetorical embrace of direct democracy looks more like hypocrisy the more you examine their actions. That's why Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Illinois, said that if anyone wants to use the new website to offer an idea that deviates from the party orthodoxy on taxes, "they're welcome to do so, but that's not something we're going to take up."

Rejecting their ideas outright is an interesting way to increase the dialogue with the American people.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.