More and more figures on the right — especially some darlings of the all-important tea party movement — are coming forward to utter a conservative heresy: that the Pentagon budget cow perhaps should not be so sacred after all.
Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky was the latest, on Sunday declaring on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that military spending should not be exempt from the electorate’s clear desire to reduce the massive federal deficit.
His comments follow similar musings by leading fiscal hawks Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a presumptive contender for the GOP nomination in 2012. Others who agree that military spending shouldn’t get a free pass as we search for savings include Sen. Johnny Isakson, Sen. Bob Corker, Sen.-elect Pat Toomey—the list goes on.
Will tea partiers extend their limited government principles to foreign policy? I certainly hope so, although I caution that any move to bring down Pentagon spending must include a change in our foreign policy that currently commits our military to far too many missions abroad. To cut spending without reducing overseas commitments merely places additional strains on the men and women serving in our military, which is no one’s desired outcome.
If tea partiers need the specifics they have been criticized for lacking in their drive for fiscal discipline, they need look no further than the Cato Institute’s DownsizingGovernment.org project. As of today, that web site includes recommendations for over a trillion dollars in targeted cuts to the Pentagon budget over ten years.
Meanwhile, the hawkish elements of the right have been at pains to declare military spending off-limits in any moves toward fiscal austerity. That perspective is best epitomized in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, Arthur Brooks of AEI and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard published on Oct. 4—a month before the tea party fueled a GOP landslide. (Ed Crane and I penned a letter responding to that piece.) Thankfully, it looks like neoconservative attempts to forestall a debate over military spending have failed. That debate is already well along.