Open Letter to Congress: The Promise of the Williamsburg Accord

Dear Congressman,

In the coming months, you will face tremendous pressure to accept a deal to raise our nation’s debt ceiling.  Conservatives around the country will insist the debt ceiling not be raised unless our nation gets on a path to a balanced budget within 10 years and stays balanced.  This is not an arbitrary marker; rather, it is the marker laid out by the entire House Republican Conference in what has become known as the Williamsburg Accord.

Conservatives cannot enter into the debt ceiling debate without understanding the promise of the Williamsburg Accord.

On January 18, four current and former chairmen of the Republican Study Committee announced an agreement to re-sequence the 2013 fiscal fights.  In exchange for holding the line on the sequester and producing a budget that balanced in ten years, conservatives agreed to postpone the debt ceiling debate for several months.  In turn, the debate on the debt ceiling would revolve around enacting the policies that put the federal budget on the path to 10-year balance.

A few days later, Speaker Boehner declared, “It’s time for us to come to a plan that will in fact balance the budget over the next 10 years.”  He said it was the GOP’s “commitment to the American people.”

As the proverbial ink dried on the Williamsburg Accord, the House Republican Conference marched in unison.  Lawmakers focused on laying the groundwork to enact the policies necessary to achieve a 10-year balance, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and attach them to any future increases in the debt ceiling.

At the same time, the National Republican Congressional Committee quietly poll-tested the message in key districts.  Balancing the budget was a winning political argument in swing districts.  The NRCC poll found that 45 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents and 76 percent of Republicans thought balancing the federal budget would “significantly increase economic growth and create millions of American jobs.”

Good policy is good politics, and we know from recent history a coherent, principled message on the debt ceiling can shift public opinion.  Before landing on the Budget Control Act in August 2011, Republicans consistently said America had a spending problem and spending reductions must accompany any increase in the debt ceiling.

Not surprisingly, the accepted narrative of that showdown is wrong.  Many forget Republicans were winning the generic congressional vote the entire month of July.  President Obama’s disapproval rating stood at 52% by the end of August.  In September, Mitt Romney was leading in head-to-head polling.

The path to balance is the path to victory.

Conservatives should not raise our nation’s statutory debt limit unless Congress passes and the President signs into law real reforms and immediate spending reductions that place America on a path to balance within 10 years without raising taxes and keeping the budget in balance.


Michael A. Needham
Chief Executive Officer
Heritage Action for America

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Balancing the budget is a winning political argument in swing districts. Raising the debt ceiling isn't.

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