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The Next Fight: Tea Partiers v. Hawks on Defense Cuts

The Hill reports that the defense industry is anxious the fiscal cliff tax deal may increase the likelihood of Pentagon cuts:

The defense industry is worried last week’s budget deal on taxes could damage its negotiating position for the next “fiscal cliff” deadline two months from now, when across-the-board spending cuts would take effect. 

The deficit debate is shifting from taxes toward spending cuts and the debt limit, where there will be more of a focus on new cuts to the Pentagon.

While the first fiscal cliff fight over taxes included the threat of massive across-the-board spending cuts, the sequel is going to be nearly all about where to cut spending. The Pentagon is the largest target outside of entitlements. …

Some defense analysts say that the shift in the Republican Party away from national security, with the rise of the Tea Party, was highlighted during the fiscal-cliff negotiations, where taxes trumped defense in importance. …

“Other issues have overtaken national security as being more important,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. 

“I think it does show how the Republican Party is no longer the party of national security, no longer a big-tent party of Reagan Republicans where a strong defense was a central tenet of conservatism.”

Fiscal conservatives argue that defense spending shouldn’t be immune from cuts, and they’re right. There is waste and mismanagement within the Pentagon, just like any other government bureaucracy, and there is undoubtedly room for reduction. What’s unacceptable is arbitrary, across-the-board cuts that would force the military to set priorities based on budget reductions, rather than the other way around. Defense should not be dealt with the same way as health care and entitlements; it’s the most important responsibility of the federal government. If there are specific areas where reductions can be made, that should be determined. But choosing a random number and asking the military to cut that much is not the way to do it.

It will be interesting to see whether this fiscal conservative v. defense hawk debate starts to play out during the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings. There are senators on the Armed Services Committee who consider themselves fiscal conservatives first and foremost, and then there are others like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who vehemently disagree with Hagel’s support for major Pentagon cuts. The question will be whether any of the fiscal hawks come to Hagel’s defense because of his position on military spending.



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