With the pending release of the Fiscal Commission’s December edict on how to address the country’s fiscal insolvency, the debate regarding the path to fiscal austerity has hinged on two policy choices: raise taxes or cut spending. Recent debate has prompted some to not only deride the possibility of spending rescissions but also to suggest Americans for Tax Reform has neglected the problems posed by government spending. These insinuations ignore obvious reality.

While Americans for Tax Reform remains a tax policy group, its president has done more to alleviate and call attention to the spending problem than any other tax crusader. This is partially due to a recognition that the two prongs of government influence are essentially intractable – higher taxes give government the excuse it needs to grow, while spending depends (partially) on an oppressive tax regime for sustenance. In that vein, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is a meaningful precondition to dialing back government spending. Other initiatives we support, such as a supermajority requirement for raising taxes, also effectively limit spending as critical components to balanced budget amendments. It is abject naiveté that would lead anyone to claim Grover Norquist lives in “candyland” for suggesting the country's fiscal crisis can be fixed by spending cuts alone. Some good numbers on why this is can be found from Cato’s Dan Mitchell here.

The ignorance of what Americans for Tax Reform has done to fight government spending demonstrates the perilously narrow worldview that has allowed the debate to shift from one on feasible spending cuts to a total capitulation on the size of government. Detractors allow the focus on the deficit to usurp their rationality, obsessing over the size of the fiscal hole the government has dug rather than working to get politicians to stop digging it. These folks assume that instead of allowing politicians shovels, we’ve given them excavators and backhoes set on autopilot. From this standpoint, the only choice is to try to fill the hole as the machines continue to dig, leading formerly rational people to advocate for higher taxes since they labor under the delusion that government growth is unstoppable.

ATR refuses to buy into this fallacy. Instead, we recognize the problem isn’t what or who is doing the digging – it’s the lack of political will to take the shovel out of the hands of those who are doing it. To that end, Grover has been a tireless advocate for limiting the size of government and worked to call attention to the spending problem in Washington for decades. ATR has supported meaningful proposals that decrease government spending, such as Rep. Paul Ryan’s Roadmap for America’s Future. We are also committed to instantiating discretionary spending at the pre-bailout, pre-“stimulus” FY08 levels (including all defense spending).

Americans for Tax Reform has been publishing the Cost of Government Day Report for a decade, providing a tangible metric for taxpayers to evaluate the cost of government spending. While other reports focus on the tax burden, this research takes into account the entire cost of government activity on the economy and calculates the average number of days Americans need to work to pay for spending and regulatory burdens imposed at all levels of government. The research goes calculates COGDs as far back as 1977 – a long perspective for a group that supposedly has done nothing on spending policy.

Recognizing that spending was an enormous problem in and of itself and couldn’t sufficiently be addressed under ATR’s charter as a tax group,  Grover launched the Center for Fiscal Accountability in 2008 which focuses solely on the spending burden imposed by all levels of government. This project lobbies on spending policy and works to increase visibility on the harm caused by government largesse. Its focus on the overall size of government drives policy that looks to limit government growth and enact aggressive spending cuts.

To that end, CFA advocates for spending transparency as a means to combat the explosive size of government. The Center for Fiscal Accountability works with local, state and federal elected officials to increase transparency for taxpayers, and has successfully helped 31 states pass transparency legislation since the federal legislation that created USAspending.gov went into effect in 2007.

Federally, Grover and CFA have been some of the most vocal opponents of the President’s Fiscal Commission, pointing out that only when tax hikes are taken off the table can spending cuts be made. History has proven this multiple times over: this was true in 1982 when President Reagan traded $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax hikes and in 1990 when President Bush made a similar “deal” with Congressional Democrats. In both cases, the tax hikes went through while spending cuts never materialized.

Nonetheless, Grover presented testimony to the Commission in June that outlines fourteen real ways the body could cut government spending, saving taxpayers billions. These proposals are as varied and as simple as instituting a Disappropriations Committee aimed at cutting spending rather than authorizing it and block granting funding education and welfare funding to the states.

Proponents of higher taxes want to paint the debate as one that can’t include spending reform; they hope to erect a dichotomy that establishes a bias for big government and higher spending. This false choice offers a convenient opportunity for big government advocates to castigate groups like Americans for Tax Reform who not only oppose higher taxes but also work to decrease the general size of government, recognizing the two initiatives are critical to the other’s success. Taken together, ATR and CFA’s advocacy on spending issues would balance the budget and address the government’s overspending problem in the long-term without raising taxes in the short-term. From the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to the launch of CFA, arguing that Americans for Tax Reform has done nothing to decrease spending is blatantly untrue.