While a tentative deal has been reached to raise the debt ceiling, a number of Republican lawmakers are threatening to blow up the compromise over a provision that would trigger modest cuts to the military if the bipartisan deficit reduction committee the bill creates cannot reach an agreement. Republicans are threatening a “sizable GOP defection in the House” while hawkish Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have expressed concern about the potential defense cuts.
The trigger is intended as a threat to encourage Congress to enact the commission’s requests, and thus contains elements that are distasteful to both parties. But the military cuts should be far more palatable to conservatives than the provision meant to cajole Democrats — Medicare cuts — are to progressives. While cutting social safety net programs like Medicare is anathema to fundamental progressive principles, reining in defense spending is appealing to many fiscal conservatives. In fact, dozens of leading Republican lawmakers, conservative leaders, and Tea Party activists have publicly called for defense cuts in recent months:
– Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA) told a local news station that reducing the deficit “begins with the Department of Defense.”
– Sen. Pat Toomey (PA) criticized Congress for voting for “programs the Pentagon doesn’t even want.” “We want to make sure men and women put in harm’s way have the resources they need. That doesn’t mean the entire defense budget has to be taken off the table.”
– Sen. Rand Paul (KY) told PBS that cutting defense spending “has to be on the table.” He also tweaked Republicans for “never” saying “they’ll cut anything out of military. … There’s still waste in the military budget. You have to make it smaller.”
– Sen. Tom Coburn (OK) wrote in the Washington Times: “Republicans should resist pressure to take all defense spending off the table. … Taking defense spending off the table is indefensible. We need to protect our nation, not the Pentagon’s sacred cows.”
– Sen. Mark Kirk (IL) said that we need “across-the-board” spending cuts, including defense.
– Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) said on Fox News Sunday that he didn’t think “anything ought to be off-limits for the effort to reduce spending.” “I don’t think we ought to start out with the notion that a whole lot of areas in the budget are exempt from reducing spending, which is what we really need to do and do it quickly.”
– Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) said everything, including defense cuts, “should be on the table.”
– Sen. Bob Corker (TN) said on CNBC that defense cuts have to be “on the table” because there’s “a lot of waste there.”
– Rep. John Campbell (CA) said the “military [must] keep ourselves safe, but know we don’t have unlimited resources. … The Defense Department should not be a jobs program.”
– Tea Party Rep. Chris Gibson (NY), a former Army Colonol: “This deficit that we have threatens our very way of life, and everything needs to be on the table.”
– 23 Conservative Leaders, including Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, Americans For Prosperity president Tim Phillips, and FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe, wrote in a letter to Congress that “Department of Defense spending, in particular, has been provided protected status that has isolated it from serious scrutiny and allowed the Pentagon to waste billions in taxpayer money.”
– Former GOP House Leader Dick Armey: “A lot of people say if you cut defense, you’re demonstrating less than a full commitment to our nation’s security, and that’s baloney.”
– Tea Party Patriots’ Mark Meckler: “I have yet to hear anyone say, ‘We can’t touch defense spending, or any other issue.’ … Any tea partier who says something else lacks integrity.”
Any cuts to the military would likely have almost zero impact on national security, as they would target the many wasteful, costly weapons programs, many of which are barely even used, like the F-22 fighter.
The military cuts in the trigger are one of the few concessions to Democrats in this deal, and small one at that, but some Republicans seem unwilling to give even that up.