Leaders of Tea Party groups split on defense spending cuts

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Some leaders of Tea Party groups say there are no “sacred cows” when it comes to spending cuts in Washington, and the traditionally Republican Party-protected Department of Defense budget is no exception — while other leaders in the grassroots movement say they are wary of cutting funds necessary to protect the nation.

FreedomWorks’s director of federal and state campaigns Brendan Steinhauser told The Daily Caller his organization has “publicly supported starting with the $100 billion in cuts [Defense] Secretary Gates recommended.”

“I don’t think anyone can agree on one number or amount that needs to be cut, or how much needs to be spent, but I think the idea is that we definitely have to look at it,” Steinhauser said in a phone interview. “We definitely need to cut where there is waste, and maybe force the Pentagon to do more with a little bit less money. I think we’ve proven that, throughout the history of this country, that we can defend this country without spending a trillion dollars per year on defense.”

The federal government spent about $717 billion on defense in 2010. That’s out of about $3.552 trillion in total government spending.

Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler agrees with Steinhauser regarding defense spending cuts, saying, “We think they should be on the table like everything else. There are no sacred cows.”

Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell told TheDC that while his group is open to military spending cuts, defense spending is one of the few expenses explicitly sanctioned in the Constitution.

“In general, we think everything is on the table [in terms of spending cuts],” Russell said. “We always think our government, including our military, can find ways to operate more efficiently. With that said, providing a general defense and a strong military is one of the few powers that the Constitution clearly directs our federal government to take control of.”

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips said he’s opposed to any cuts to the Department of Defense and aligns more with conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative.

“I am very, very strongly opposed to DoD cuts,” Phillips said in an e-mail to TheDC. “DoD has been cut far too much and we have a dangerous world out there. Of course, Obama would like the US to have the military strength of Luxembourg, so I suspect he will be pushing for more defense cuts.”

In an October 2010 report, Heritage, AEI and the Foreign Policy Initiative discredited what they said were military spending “myths,” like about how much of the U.S. budget is actually defense spending. Though defense spending currently takes about a fifth of the U.S. annual budget, entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid eat up nearly 60 percent of it. The think tanks point out, too, that cutting the entire military budget for 2011 would only halve the $1.5 trillion budget deficit.

But some grassroots Tea Party leaders still think the Department of Defense can run more efficiently and cost less. FreedomWorks vice president of public policy Max Pappas told TheDC the military is just like any other bureaucracy: efficiency is hard to come by.

“The general theory of the bureaucrat applies: the bureaucrat lacks the incentives and the information necessary to efficiently run his or her operations, and that applies whether you’re a bureaucrat at the Department of Energy of the Department of Defense,” Pappas said in an e-mail. “And it’s no secret that the defense budget is full of projects the Pentagon doesn’t want but that Congressman include to fund projects in their own districts. If some of that money was cut, and some redirected to other projects the Pentagon actually wants, we’d all be better off.”