House Republicans delivered a blow to the public financing system Wednesday, voting 239-160 to end federal support for presidential elections. The fund, created in 1976, was established to give presidential contenders a leg up in campaigning, but with one caveat--the money is theirs for the taking as long as they shun any outside contributions. The Senate isn't likely to follow the House's lead, but the vote has kicked off debate nonetheless.
Opponents such as Sen. Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor deride the program as "welfare for politicians" or "an example of unnecessary government waste." Further, opponents say the low-participation rate warrants the program's demise, since the IRS says only 8.7 percent of taxpayers give to the fund, compare to 28.7 percent in 31 years ago. "This is money that won't educate one American. It won't feed one American. It won't defend the country. It won't build one mile of interstate highway," Rep. Tom Cole is quoted as saying by USAToday's Fredreka Schouten. "If you eliminate this program, the average American is not going to miss it."
However, backers say the Republicans need to slow down and that the numbers are misleading. MotherJones's Kevin Drum points out, for example, that 2008 was the first time presidential candidates opted not to use public financing.