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A one-on-one with Jonathan Bydlak: The next Grover Norquist?

Jonathan BydlakOver the last few years the national debt has become a major issue in Washington, particularly with the growth of the Tea Party and the influx of conservatives in Congress during the past two cycles.

The Coalition to Reduce Spending is a nonprofit organization advocating for reduced federal spending and a balanced budget. It is led by Jonathan Bydlak, a former director of fundraising for Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. Bydlak has been published in National Review Online and USA Today, and has appeared on Fox Business’ Stossel and various other radio and TV outlets. 

I was fortunate enough to get an update from Jonathan on the growth of the coalition since we last talked.

Dustin Siggins: What is the Coalition to Reduce Spending (CRS)?

Jonathan Bydlak: We are the only national organization to advocate exclusively for reducing spending. Our goal is to change the political incentives faced by politicians and to inject accountability so that elected officials feel compelled to vote for less, rather than more, spending.

DS: How long have you existed?

JB: Just under a year now.

DS: Why spending? Why not other issues?

JB: I think spending is the issue of our generation. At the end of the day, regardless of one’s party affiliation, people understand from personal experience  that spending more than you take in is bad.  It’s essentially theft from future generations and it harms future economic growth, which is the driver of future living standards and wellbeing.

DS: How do you measure your organization’s success?

JB: We primarily measure our success by how effectively we are building a caucus of elected officials and candidates who sign our Spending Pledge. The Pledge commits candidates for federal office to vote only for balanced budgets and to offset any new spending or programs with cuts elsewhere in the budget.. It’s an idea that has bipartisan appeal because two people can have radically different views on the role of government and still believe we should live within our means.

Beyond this, we also try to shake the debate through editorials, high-profile media appearances, etc. Our ultimate goal is to gather substantial support for reducing spending from across the political spectrum, across occupations, and across the country. So our other metric is essentially how quickly we’re growing our membership base.

DS: How many candidates and elected officials have signed your pledge?

JB: In the 2012 election cycle, we had 24 nationwide sign it, and two were elected: Representative Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

In Tuesday’s special election in the First District of South Carolina to replace Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in the House, we’ve had 14 of 16 Republicans sign on to our platform and 1 of 2 Democrats.

DS: You talked about media metrics. What names are backing CRS?

JB: We have a pretty extensive Board of Advisors. Jim Rogers, the legendary investor who started the first hedge fund in the 1970s with George Soros; investor, radio show host, and author Peter Schiff; syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock; and Herb London, Chairman Emeritus of the Hudson Institute are four of them.

We’ve been mentioned a lot in media lately as well. I appeared on John Stossel’s show in January, was dubbed “the 29-year old Grover Norquist” by a reporter for The Fiscal Times, and have been published in USA TODAY, National Review Online, and Real Clear Politics’ “Policy” page. Stossel also dedicated one of his columns to highlighting our work, and that pretty much hit everywhere we’d want to hit.

DS: Any thoughts on this week’s three budget debates – the Senate Continuing Resolution (CR), the Senate budget, and the House budget?

JB: As best I can tell, there is not much in the way of spending reduction in there. The CR is so emblematic of the difficulty we face: Republicans typically talk a better game than Democrats, but each side has its own sacred cows it doesn’t want to touch. Both parties come together and “compromise” by voting for the other’s spending, rather than putting each other’s sacred cows on the chopping block.” If I can channel Milton Friedman for a moment, we’re only going to see spending cut when it becomes politically profitable for those who aren’t with us ideologically to vote in favor of doing so.Unfortunately, the incentives remain what they’ve been for a while: tout bringing home pork to your district and keep spending too much.

DS: How do you plan on reaching out to people who don’t already agree with you?

JB: There are a number of relatively easy ways to do this. One point I like to highlight is Tom Coburn’s finding that there’s at least $200-300 billion in duplicative spending across agencies and departments. Even if we disagree on the optimal role of government, can’t we at least agree that there shouldn’t be multiple programs doing the same thing?

My bigger idea, though, is that elected officials should start thinking about government spending in terms of tradeoffs. As our pledge states, we want the norm in Washington to be elected officials countering spending on one program with cuts in others.  A great example of this is the Superstorm Sandy legislation, which spent over $60 billion. Rep. Rick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) offered an amendment to cut spending elsewhere, and five Democrats actually supported him. And since Republicans have a majority in the House, it easily would have passed if enough Republicans had voted for it.

Ultimately, I think we’re uniquely positioned here, because we’re focused only on the issue of spending. When a group takes positions on 20 issues, it creates 20 enemies. Just imagine if our way of thinking about spending became the norm in Washington. It’d be a giant leap forward toward inserting fiscal responsibility into Washington’s budget debates.

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