Tears of a Hawk

As noted here earlier, the original impetus for the particular framework of the latest iteration of the Ryan Budget was the need to get House Tea Folk to back off threats to blow up the global economy via another debt limit hostage-taking effort. Showing them an actually balanced budget that enshrined all over again such right-wing totems as further tax rate cuts for the wealthy and businesses, a repeal of Obamacare, and a decimation of programs benefitting those people, provided some symbolic relief for conservatives angry about the “fiscal cliff” betrayal and the general inability of party leaders to understand they were losing elections because of excessive moderation.

But there was another aggrieved constituency (overlapping with the Tea Folk in many instances, or at least more than you’d guess from media stereotypes) that was given a magic salve by Ryan: defense hawks. He exempts the Pentagon from future cuts even as he savages domestic spending, and retains some of the Romney/Ryan campaign’s rhetoric about Obama starving the military.

He’s a tricky one, though: the actual level of spending his budget endorses is based on Pentagon requests that during the campaign he denounced as politically driven. So while it projects defense spending at higher levels than are provided for in the recently implemented appropriations sequester, it’s also significantly below the big increases proposed by Romney/Ryan during the campaign.

It’s unclear whether GOP hawks will buy this blueprint as better than nothing; criticize it for its contradictions with what its author was saying just months ago; or dismiss it as the symbolic exercise it ultimately represents. But Ryan’s unacknowledged wavering on defense spending deserves more attention that it’s getting.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.