Conservatives’ New Plan: Spend One Dollar Less

by Jonathan Strong

Amid a period of soul-searching following the government shutdown, a coalition of conservative groups is putting forward one of the first significant proposals for the upcoming debt-ceiling increase. “If Washington wants to take on more debt,” the groups ask in a letter to lawmakers, “isn’t it fair that they at least be forced to spend One Dollar Less next year than they’re spending this year?”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, Let Freedom Ring president Colin Hanna, Competitive Enterprise Institute Vice President Wayne Crews, Faith and Freedom Coalition president Ralph Reed, 60 Plus Association chairman Jim Martin, and nearly 20 other conservative leaders signed the letter.

In August, the outside groups polled the language, originally conceived by Chicago entrepreneur and conservative activist Todd Stump, as part of a larger set of questions about how various messages would resonate with the public.

The poll showed they had landed on something. “80% of respondents said that Congress should spend at least One Dollar Less next year, with a strong 63% believing that spending reductions should be even greater,” the letter says, adding, “Of particular warning to Congress, only 4% said that Congress should spend more next year.”

The man behind the effort is Alex Cortes, the executive director of Let Freedom Ring. Cortes, whose first child was born today, notes his new daughter was “of course born with a $52,000 share of our national debt.” With all that red ink, conservatives have a “moral obligation to try to reduce spending,” he says, lamenting that the issue of cutting spending was lost in the last showdown with the president.

The contrast between the defund push and the “one dollar less” proposal is stark. Defunding the president’s health-care law was an aggressively ambitious demand. Asking the government to spend one dollar less is designed to sound almost laughably modest to the average person, who doesn’t understand that in the Capitol, slowing an increase in spending counts as a “cut.”

Colin Hanna, the president of Let Freedom Ring and a co-signer of the letter, said the language prompts a kind of “holy smokes” reaction from the public that “can’t they do, with their huge budget, a fraction of what I’ve done with my budget?”

“If we are successful in promoting that message it will demonstrate there is support for serious budget reform that is deeper and wider than policy-makers have been willing to acknowledge,” he adds.

The groups have held informal discussions with House leadership about the idea, but the push is still just getting started. They have launched a website, which features a video of Cortes asking members of Congress whether they would be willing to spend a dollar less next year. A dismissive Representative Jarrold Nadler says Congress should be spending more.

Two heavyweights in the world of conservative outside groups, the Heritage Foundation and the Club For Growth, aren’t on the letter, and it’s too early to tell whether the proposal will catch on like earlier ideas (defund, Cut Cap, and Balance) have. But the letter is the first big sign there is appetite in the movement for a debt-ceiling fight, even if it’s a self-consciously modest one.

The full letter is below the jump:

November 18, 2013

Dear Members of Congress,

The undersigned public policy organizations are writing to you today about the upcoming debt ceiling debate and our belief that Congress has a moral obligation to pursue additional spending reductions before taking on additional debt. 

Specifically, we propose the following: If Washington wants to take on more debt, isn’t it fair that they at least be forced to spend One Dollar Less next year than they’re spending this year? 

Most families are reducing their budgets by far more than one dollar, shouldn’t Washington at least do this much? The American people certainly think so. 

In an August public opinion survey with The Tarrance Group, 80% of respondents said that Congress should spend at least One Dollar Less next year, with a strong 63% believing that spending reductions should be even greater. 80% issues are rare in our polarized politics.

Of particular warning to Congress, only 4% said that Congress should spend more next year. And yet that’s what Washington is currently set to do—siding with the 4% to spend $175 billion more next year than they are this year. 

We believe One Dollar Less is powerful because it is relatable, an amount Americans can wrap their minds around whereas few can with numbers as big as hundreds of billions and trillions. It also relatable as it is how families consider their own budgets every year—”Is our total spending more or less?”—not pondering convoluted cuts from projected increases.

Thank you for attention to this letter. We eagerly await to hear your feedback. 

Sincerely, 

Grover Norquist
President, Americans for Tax Reform

Colin Hanna
President, Let Freedom Ring

Ralph Reed
President, Faith and Freedom Coalition

Jim Martin
Chairman, 60 Plus Association

Phil Kerpen
President, American Commitment

Brandon Arnold
Vice President, National Taxpayers Union

Ned Ryun
President, American Majority Action

Andrew Moylan
Senior Fellow, R Street Institute

Wayne Crews
Vice President, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Marion Boteju
Executive Director, American Principles Project

Mattie Duppler
Executive Director, Cost of Government Center

Mario Lopez
President, Hispanic Leadership Fund

Seton Motely
President, Less Government 

Coley Jackson
President, Freedom Action

George Landrith
President, Frontiers of Freedom

David Williams
President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Jim Backlin
President, Christian Coalition

Preston Noel
Tradition, Family, and Property

Alex Cortes
Executive Director, Let Freedom Ring

Myron Ebell
Executive Director, Freedom Action

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