Putting defense spending on the table

One of the many problems with the debt-reduction talks is the narrow scope of what Republicans consider acceptable. They are, or at least claim to be, desperate to cut spending and reduce the deficit in a hurry, but they’re also quick to reject all kinds of credible ideas that would achieve this goal.

Take the Pentagon budget, for example. We’re spending $700 billion a year on defense, nearly as much as every other country on the planet combined, but as recently as last week, the same Republicans demanding spending cuts said military spending shouldn’t be on the table at all.

GOP leaders, however, may be against defense cuts, but unlike tax increases, they haven’t drawn any lines in the sand over this. The Washington Post reports today that cuts to military spending may be on “a potential path to compromise.”

Senior GOP lawmakers and leadership aides said it would be far easier to build support for a debt-reduction package that cuts the Pentagon budget — a key Democratic demand — than one that raises revenue by tinkering with the tax code. […]

In listening sessions with their rank and file, House Republican leaders said they have found a surprising willingness to consider defense cuts that would have been unthinkable five years ago, when they last controlled the House. While the sessions have sparked heated debate on many issues, Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.), the deputy GOP whip, said there are few lawmakers left who view the Pentagon budget as sacrosanct.

“When we say everything is on the table, that’s what we mean,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the No. 3 leader who has been hosting the listening sessions in his Capitol offices.

This has been a simmering point of contention among Republicans in recent months, but if this article is right, most GOP officials seem willing to bite the bullet, so to speak, on defense spending. It apparently comes down to priorities: “[I]f Republicans agree to significant Pentagon cuts, the White House may find it easier to accept a deal that includes less in new revenue, people familiar with the talks said.”

This, in and of itself, tells us quite a bit about the current state of the Republican Party. On the issues hierarchy, the GOP obsession with taxes is so dominant, military spending Republicans used to consider sacrosanct is now open to cuts — just as long as the cuts are used as a tradeoff to prevent even a penny in tax increases.

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