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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tea Party Mandate to Cut Spending Makes Exception for Defense

2010 US Budget

Incoming Tea Party representatives were elected on a wave of concern with government spending, but the elephant in the room (which is defense spending), is causing most newly elected Republicans to just simply look the other way. I posted the above graph just to prove the point that if any congressman is serious about reducing our “crushing burden of debt,” as Mr. Ryan called it in his response to the State of the Union address, you simply cannot ignore the defense budget. But, incoming representatives are finding that there is much more nuance to governing than their mantra to ‘cut, cut, cut.’

But this is just another of the many emerging struggles within the Republican Party about what direction to go in (Poll Analysis: Is the Tea Party Digging Their Own Grave?). The ‘party of no’ passed a repeal of health care reform last week, but immediately began backpedaling. Mr. Ryan went so far as to announce Republicans would now be coming out with their own health care plan as they recognize the unpopularity of the repeal. Tea Party representatives campaigned on repealing entitlements like Social Security and Medicare to reign in spending, but now that they’re in power, it seems like these unpopular stances will also take a back seat, as Mr. Ryan conveniently left these ideas out of his response as well.

The same thing is happening with defense spending. For all their fervor to come to Washington to set the country’s finances straight, Republicans are now split on whether or not to cut defense spending. Looking at what newly elected Tea Party candidates said during the campaign and what the say now, you’ll notice a divide. Representative Vicky Hartzler, a freshman from Missouri, was backed by Sarah Palin and said her main priority was to reign in spending. But, when it comes to spending for the Pentagon all of a sudden Ms. Hartzler has had a change of mind. Her district has two large military bases and is home to the B-2 Stealth Bomber and the unmanned Predator Drones. Representative Scott Rigell, a freshman from Virginia, signed onto the Tea Party platform of cutting spending, but when asked about Secretary of Defense Robert Gate’s plan to do just that, he said “The abruptness of the decision is concerning me.” Mr. Rigell now represents a district that is economically dependent on military funding.

I really don’t say this often, but I’ve got a gift for freshman representatives who act so concerned about the budget: the much beloved founders probably wouldn’t have supported a 550 billion dollar defense budget either! In fact, the founders didn’t support any kind of defense budget. Not until the early 19th century did America have a navy, let alone an army. President Thomas Jefferson finally convinced Congress to create a navy to fight off the Barbary Coast pirates in 1801. Since the tea party seems to be interested in what the founders would have to say of our present-day state of affairs, shouldn’t that extend to the nation’s defense as well?

It seems that freshman Republicans are finding that governing is not quite as easy as just saying yes, or no; there is much more gray than black or white. Will there be room for nuance in the ‘party of no?’ We’ll just have to wait and see.

Further Reading:
NY Times: G.O.P. Splits Over Plans to Cut Defense Budget

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