Conservative Group Working To Stop Spending Cuts

One of the most pre-eminent conservative organizations in the country is quietly working behind the scenes to stop spending cuts:

As one of the country’s largest and oldest conservative advocacy groups, the American Conservative Union has long fought to rein in federal spending and limit the size of government.

But behind the scenes, the group has formed a partnership with business lobbyists to tame the activists who have pushed Republican leaders in Congress to adopt some of the most austere spending limits in decades.

In a draft proposal circulated to defense and transportation industry executives in recent weeks, the union is offering to use its grass-roots organization, annual conference and movement clout to lobby against cuts to federal military and infrastructure spending.

The group is also proposing to incorporate favorable votes on military and infrastructure spending into its widely cited Congressional voting scorecard, “the ‘gold standard’ for elected officials,” according to the proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. The documents shed light on a rarely public corner of Washington lobbying, where industry lobbyists join with grass-roots groups that offer ideological credibility and deep mailing lists of sympathetic activists — sometimes for a price.

“Constitutional conservatives recognize that not all government expenditures are equal,” the proposal says. “These investments are core, constitutional federal responsibilities and should be so treated in the allocation of federal resources.”

The proposed new effort, called the American Strength Program, would be financed by contributions from the defense and transportation businesses, which have struggled to defend the federal appropriations that benefit them as Congressional Republicans seek further spending cuts.

In recent weeks, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association has urged transportation lobbyists and business executives to make contributions to the American Strength Program. The association, which often joins with Democratic-leaning labor unions to advance federal road and bridge projects, suggested it was critical to persuade conservative lawmakers to bend on some areas of spending.

“As you know, in recent times, we have often had trouble convincing our conservative friends that transportation infrastructure is a valuable investment and should not be subject to the spending cuts being discussed,” wrote Richard Juliano, the association’s vice president for strategic initiatives, in an e-mail to colleagues this month. “We would appreciate your considering a major contribution to this program in support of the A.C.U. effort and encouraging others to do so.”

Officials at the union, who declined to say how much they were seeking to raise for the new program, described the proposal as a draft. The group’s tax returns indicate it raised about $3.8 million in 2010, but as a tax-exempt “social welfare” organization, the union is not required to disclose its donors.

In an interview, Alberto R. Cardenas, the chairman of the conservative union, said all money raised from the program’s partners would go into a Beltway-focused media campaign.

“My thought was that we were taking an uneven amount of resources from the two elements that are the most basic responsibilities of the federal government, which are national defense and the development of a national transportation infrastructure,” Mr. Cardenas said.

The American Strength Program also hints at some fundamental tensions within conservatism. The movement’s establishment, including the conservative union, took root in Washington in an when era military spending was sacrosanct and transportation bills regularly marched through Congress with bipartisan support.

On some level, of course, this isn’t all that surprising. Even since the sequestration cuts were announced, there were loud voices on the right denouncing the defense cuts by claiming, largely falsely, that the cuts would “devastate” the military and harm national security. Of course, this goes beyond defense spending to include infrastructure spending, largely at the behest of Republican business interests. This from an organization that was banning people from CPAC for  alleged ideological impurities.

FILED UNDER: Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    They never wanted cuts that would affect rich contractors. Cuts are for the poor only. Preferably minority poor.

  2. wr says:

    Because these cuts are so stupid that even rabidly ideological Republicans can see that.

    There is no good in “austerity” at this time, except to the fanatics who have made a religion out of bringing suffering to the poor.

  3. mantis says:

    Gee, I thought it was an no-quester.

  4. stonetools says:

    American Conservative Union motto: “Unlimited spending for government contractors, limited spending for everyone else. ”

    At least the mask is off . I hope the nonsense about conservatives being for limited government and limited spending will now cease (but who am I kidding?).

  5. john personna says:

    Some of us have suggested that the reason Republicans cannot name cuts is that they cannot actually find cuts with public support.

    This is kind of a devastating example of that. Republicans cannot name cuts that their own organizations can fully support.

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The right and the putative right certainly are not immune from irony if not self-parody.

    (Of course it goes without saying that a NYT report about the ACU needs to be taken with a giant grain of salt; for the same reasons why if the Washington Times did a report about the Sierra Club working secretly behind the scenes with logging companies to reach a state of detente the left-wing on the Internet (BIRM) would be quite skeptical.)

    In any event, regarding the larger issue that’s at issue here, spending public money is an addiction and ultimately it will destroy the country, most ironically for Gen. Y / the Millennials, who with rare exceptions could not possibly grasp the irony. And the problem with addictions is, well, that they’re addictions. Rationality goes out the window, even amongst those who by rights should be and normally are rational.

    The brutal truth is that we need radically to reduce federal government spending. But that’s like saying to an alcoholic that he needs radically to reduce his alcohol intake. Yeah, obviously. Bears shit in the woods too. It’s far easier said than done, however, and that ultimately will be the primary cause of our nation’s fiscal and economic demise.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    “…The brutal truth is that we need radically to reduce federal government spending…”

    No…that is an opinion…it is not truth.
    There is nothing “true” about that statement.
    It is your ideological position.
    An ideological position with virtually no factual basis.
    You probabaly cannot grasp the irony of your not being able to grasp the irony in your blundering.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    How is it that a brilliant attorney such as Tsar is unable to discern the differrence between opinion based on ideological bias…and “truth”?

  9. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @C. Clavin: I think he’s a lawyer in the same way that Orly Taitz is.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    @C. Clavin: because he’s not a brilliant attorney? (Attorney? OK, maybe. Orly Taitz is an attorney as well.)

  11. Tony W says:

    @grumpy realist: Somebody had to graduate at the bottom of the class too.

  12. Hal 10000 says:

    So the two most wasteful parts of the budget — transportation and defense — should be spared. Everything else: anti-poverty, education, science … screw it. (Not that I’m saying there aren’t cuts to be made there, too).

    ” The association, which sometimes works with Democratic-leaning labor unions to advance federal road and bridge projects,”

    That really tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it?

  13. de stijl says:

    The sequester has provided one interesting phenomenon in my personal life. My mother was and is a Republican – not one of the fabled 27% but within shouting distance.

    The interesting thing about the sequester hitting R base sacred cows is that she is now reluctantly willing to admit that “in some limited cases” government can actually create jobs. I asked if this meant she was now a Keynesian and she about bit my ear off over the phone line.

  14. C. Clavin says:

    Orly Tsar???