Jonathan Bydlak is the President of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization dedicated to one thing: reducing federal spending to balance the federal budget. Jonathan, a former fundraiser for the 2008 Ron Paul for President and 2012 Gary Johnson for President campaigns, believes the debt is the greatest threat to the future of our nation. Bydlak has now moved from working to elect candidates to generating support from across the political spectrum for balancing the budget.
I met Jonathan last week on the recommendation of a mutual acquaintance, and we sat down yesterday to discuss his organization and its goals.
Dustin Siggins: First, what is your organization about? And with so many organizations and people talking about the national debt, what makes yours stand out?
Jonathan Bydlak: The organization is the Coalition to Reduce Spending (CRS). What makes us different than most is that there are few groups solely focused on the issue of spending. Many groups focus on a multitude of issues, but in the last few years spending has become THE issue that matters to Americans of all political stripes. Thus, there is an opening for a group that is solely focused on spending. When I look at the political organizations that are most successful, they focus on one goal, and thus they can gather people across the spectrum. This is because they have a policy goal instead of a political goal, at least insofar as party and politicians are concerned.
Right now we are focused on getting candidates and people to support our position. Many candidates talk the talk, but once they get into office they vote for the big spending bills. Our philosophy is that if we can get candidates on the record regarding spending, we can hold them accountable. Once in office, we have them on the record supporting lower spending.
DS: What does “on the record” mean for your organization?
JB: The signature program of the organization is the “Reject the Debt” candidate pledge. The basic idea behind the pledge is for candidates to acknowledge the debt is a problem and needs to be dealt with. The components of the pledge are as follows:
- Candidates will not vote for an imbalanced budget.
- Candidates will not support new spending programs that are not offset elsewhere in the budget with cuts.
- Candidates will not vote to increase borrowing, i.e. no raising of the debt ceiling.
We recognize emergencies may be warranted, so we have a caveat: In times of congressional authorization of force, for example, like Afghanistan, where we may need to borrow or spend unexpectedly. Generally speaking, though, we think these are the planks upon which we can balance the budget.
DS: When we talked the other day, you said it was okay to support the Paul Ryan plan or, even better, the Rand Paul plan. All of these plans take more than one year to balance. Can you explain how this fits within your pledge?
JB: So, essentially, we recognize it’s difficult to balance the budget in a year. Ryan’s budget is clearly an improvement over status quo budgets that never balance, such as the President’s Fiscal Year 2013 recent proposal. Ryan’s plan is far closer to our mission than any other budget in recent memory. We haven’t had a budget pass in over 1,000 days, so essentially what that means is that the government is operating without a blueprint on how spending is going to occur. Just by Congressman Ryan proposing a budget that is going to balance, that is a significant step in the right direction.
At the same time, the Ryan budget doesn’t go far enough. We have a $1.3 trillion deficit and $15.7 trillion in debt, and that doesn’t include future obligations that some estimates show are over $100 trillion. The Ryan budget doesn’t balance for 23 years or so, so we’d not stop deficit-spending until then.
You can ask “why is that a problem?” Well, right now, interest payments are a huge portion of spending, yet our interest rates at are at pretty much all-time lows. If interest rates return even to historical norms, the impact on the budget will explode. In 20 years, interest alone will comprise a larger portion of the budget than Social Security and many entitlement programs.
So the one-liner on the Ryan budget is that it’s a welcome improvement, and we don’t see it as a violation of the pledge, because it does balance eventually, but it’s really hard for someone to reasonably come to the conclusion that it’s anything more than a slight improvement.
DS: When it comes to new programs and spending offsets, are these direct cuts or Washington-style “future spending” cuts?
JB: They definitely would have to be direct cuts. As you know, in D.C., unlike anywhere in the private sector, “cuts” are cuts from future baseline spending. We believe cuts need to happen now. Many plans cut spending down the road, and the question is will they have the political courage to follow through on those plans? 99 times out of 100 that follow-through doesn’t happen. If you propose spending now, you must propose cuts now.
DS: We’re going to have another debt ceiling debate later this year, perhaps before the election. The third plank of your pledge essentially says we must balance the budget before that date, since any lifting of the ceiling includes more deficit spending. Is that correct?
JB: At the end of the day, as you know, the debt ceiling debate has more to do with political posturing than it does about policy. The real debate is largely over where cuts should occur and whether they should be in tandem with tax increases. Nobody is really, I don’t think, in disagreement that the debt itself is a problem, outside of perhaps a few New York Times economists. To clarify that point, there is plenty of academic research to back this up. A new study by Ken Rogoff at Harvard, for example, shows that debt over 90% of GDP is detrimental to economic growth, and right now we’re over 100% of GDP, which is causing harm to economic growth.
If we care to actually pull ourselves out of this recession (even if it’s not technically a recession), we need to significantly reduce spending. The debt ceiling debate is a big deal, and it’s our hope that it will be our chance to get substantive spending cuts that will bring the budget into balance.
When it comes to pledges, there has to be flexibility. Grover Norquist [President of Americans for Tax Reform] offers flexibility in his pledge all the time, and it makes him more effective. Senator Paul opposes raising the debt ceiling, but he has said he will raise it in order to get a Balanced Budget Amendment vote. Our goal isn’t to back people into a corner, but to affect real policy change. We’re open to being flexible in upcoming debates over the debt ceiling if there are real, substantive cuts on the table.
DS: How many candidates and elected officials have you gotten to sign your pledge? When will you release the list?
JB: We haven’t gone public yet with our signees, but I think people will be surprised when we do. You’ll see Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the list, and marquee names as well as lesser-known candidates. Stay tuned.
It’s probably worth mentioning, too, that we’re also working to assemble a group of scholars to lend intellectual support for our policy recommendations. Our goal isn’t just to say, “let’s cut spending,” but also to provide the answer to why. We believe there are a lot of individuals – academics, public intellectuals, and others – who can lend credibility to the position that spending must be reduced and our debt problems addressed.
DS: Final question: Who else is involved with the organization, whether it be through the board of directors, employees, etc. that you can tell us about? Any big names?
JB: Sure. Well-known financial commentator Peter Schiff is on our board of advisors, as is Dave Nalle, the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. The majority of our leadership, though, is made up of a new generation of activists in a variety of political efforts who are united in our concern about the national debt and dedicated to doing something about it. We all believe very strongly that this issue transcends partisanship and that it’s most important that we achieve consensus that spending reduction needs to occur now before it’s too late. Any of your readers can learn more about us and the project at www.reducespending.org.