WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives, stung by criticism that their party lacks new ideas, launched an online initiative on Tuesday to hear suggestions and policy proposals directly from Americans.
Republicans are licking their chops at the idea of taking seats away from Democrats in November congressional elections. And yet they said their taxpayer-funded "America Speaking Out" website was not aimed at attracting voter support for their candidates.
"This has to do with listening to the American people and addressing their concerns today," said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, Minority Leader John Boehner.
Republicans by law cannot use the americaspeakingout.com website for political purposes, since they established it with taxpayer money.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, who is in charge of the effort, said it would not cost much more than an average website for a congressional office.
Using the information gained, Republicans hope to develop legislative priorities for Congress based on their conservative principles by September, two months before the November 2 elections. Boehner said an agenda for congressional candidates is being developed on a separate track.
Democrats voiced suspicions at Republicans' argument that their effort was not political.
"That is the biggest joke I've ever heard," said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
Republicans hope to use their initiative to tap into Americans' frustration with Washington at rising debt and a lingering 9.9 percent unemployment rate.
Representative Candice Miller, a Republican who represents the electoral swing district of Macomb County in Michigan, said in 30 years of holding elected offices she has never seen people so "absolutely agitated" at government spending and the perceived lack of emphasis on creating jobs.
"And the number one thing that I hear, over and over and over again, everywhere I go, is 'Why isn't Washington listening to us?'" she said.
The Republican Party has battled criticism from Democrats that it has become the "party of no" by rejecting President Barack Obama's agenda rather than bringing ideas to the table that would help reach a compromise.
Republicans reject such criticism, saying Americans disagree with Obama's agenda.
Using americaspeakingout.com, Republicans hope Americans will submit their ideas and generate policy discussions. They will also hold town hall meetings with citizens to foster further discussion.
While Democrats have a large majority over Republicans in the House, Republicans declared they hold an edge over Democrats in a key area -- social media.
More House Republicans are on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube than their Democratic counterparts, said Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state.
"House Republicans have tweeted five times as many (times) as the House Democrats. Leader Boehner has almost five times as many Facebook fans as (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi," Rodgers said.