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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Republicans Bob and Weave on Defense Spending

One of the most predictable amusements of this new Congress is to watch the fiery, nothing’s-off-the-table budget hawks of the Republican Party begin to make exceptions for defense spending, even, in fact, opposing cuts already being advocated by the Pentagon.
Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker of the New York Times have a rundown on efforts by more senior GOP solons to “educate” Tea Party freshmen about the importance of defense spending to the country and to their own districts. That’s because so few said a word on the subject during the recent campaign:

The discordant Republican voices on military spending have bred confusion on Capitol Hill, among military contractors and within the military itself, where no one is exactly sure what the members backed by the Tea Party will do. It also shows why taking on the military budget will be so hard, even though a widening deficit has led the president and the leaders of both parties to say this time they are serious.
Most Tea Party candidates spoke little about national security and the military in fall political campaigns focused on cutting spending over all.

This dilemma has been brewing for quite some time. Back during the campaign, Sarah Palin took it upon herself to act as the defense industry’s main emissary to the Tea Party Movement, urging fiscal conservatives to give the Pentagon a pass:

There’s growing concern among Republicans — and especially among the pro-defense neoconservative wing of the party — that national security spending, which is under a level of scrutiny and pressure not seen since the end of the Cold War, could fall victim to the tea party’s anti-establishment, anti-spending agenda. The former Alaska governor, as the unofficial leader of the movement and its most prominent celebrity, is moving to carve out such funding from any drives to cut overall government expenditures.
“In the conservative ranks and within the party, she’s really quite a crucial piece in this puzzle,” said Tom Donnelly, a defense fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “She’s got both political and tea-party/small-government bona fides, but she also has a lot of credibility in advocating for military strength.”

More recently, would-be president John Bolton took this same no-cuts position on defense spending It will be most interesting to see what some other presidential candidates–e.g., Mitt Romney, who’s tried to pose as Mister Tough Guy on foreign and defense policy–will have to say on this rather obvious contradicton in the conservative message and agenda.

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