Why neocons can’t cut

Jack Hunter Contributing Editor, Rare
Font Size:

“We are not going to gut our military.” – Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, October 20, 2012

Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney and his VP pick Paul Ryan promised they were not going to let President Obama “gut our military.”

This “gutting” referred to the automatic cuts known as “sequester” mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The across-the-board cuts did disproportionately affect military spending to the tune of about $22 billion.

But they were never actual cuts. They were simply decreases in the rate of growth. Military spending stood at $718 billion in 2011, the year sequester became law. But military spending would’ve been $967 billion this year, even under the sequester.

How was a military budget that went up $249 billion this year considered “gutting” the military?

The same way that Democrats believe the slightest reduction in domestic spending is “gutting” education, healthcare, the poor and just about anything else.

The Democrats were eager to get rid of the sequester to protect domestic spending. Many hawkish Republicans were eager to get rid of the sequester to protect Pentagon spending.

The big spenders in both parties got their way yesterday in the House when the Ryan-Murray budget agreement passed 332-94.

The Ryan-Murray budget gives us $60 billion in new spending in the next two years. Over the next decade it adds about $7 trillion to the national debt.

Worst of all, this agreement kills the sequester — the only measure that has given us any semblance of cuts in a generation or more. Our deficit went down by over half this year thanks to the sequester. In another nine years, it might’ve balanced our budget.

Now the national debt might reach $25 trillion thanks to this “deal.”

At least we didn’t “gut our military,” some conservatives are now saying.

The majority of Republicans who voted for Ryan-Murray were by no means neoconservatives (a term that is certainly overused and often misapplied beyond what is a relatively small group), but the fear of cutting a cent from the military budget is certainly due to that type of thinking and influence.

Under the Ryan-Murray budget deal that passed the House, military spending will go up to $1.012 trillion. Under the sequester it was still $967 billion — which is still more than the next 13 nations combined and up drastically from the $287 billion we spent on defense in 2001.

Why should protecting a relatively small $45 billion in Pentagon spending this year take precedent over keeping intact the only law that has effectively reduced spending across the board?

National Review’s Kevin Williamson asks why Pentagon spending is so sacrosanct: “conservatives should not assume that $1 appropriated to national security is doing $1 worth of national-security work. There is a great deal of waste, redundancy, and superfluity in our security spending, and any long-term agenda for fiscal sanity must take that into account.”

Tea Party and libertarian Republicans did have a long-term agenda for fiscal sanity, and to date, that agenda has been the sequester. In fact, the sequester was the Tea Party’s number one legislative achievement.

Williamson adds, “This doesn’t have very much at all to do with balancing the budget or restoring sanity to the appropriations process — the point of the deal is to get the money flowing to defense contractors, who are pretty much the only private-sector constituency making much of a ruckus about the sequester.”

If Democrats are in the pockets of labor and teachers’ unions to the detriment of the American taxpayer, the same is also true of Republicans and Democrats who would rather keep defense contractors happy than serve their constituents by being fiscally responsible.

The idea that the slightest decrease in the rate of increase is a “cut” — the Democrats’ go-to Republican-bashing gimmick — is just as much of a ruse when Republicans say it.

The sequester did not “gut” the military. That Romney and Ryan repeated this hokum throughout the 2012 election showed us that the GOP still has one foot firmly stuck in the Bush-Cheney era. For the GOP, it was the party’s most explicitly neoconservative period, when the war in Iraq, unified support for war, trillions in spending on war, and more things related to war, took precedent over conservatives’ traditional preoccupation with limiting government.

Thankfully, in the years to come the Tea Party would help refocus the GOP on reducing the size of government. The Republicans who sacrificed the sequester for the Ryan-Murray deal this week helped push the GOP back in its old, big government direction — knowingly or not.

In 2010, newly-elected Senator Rand Paul told ABC News Christiane Amanpour, “Republicans traditionally say, oh, we’ll cut domestic spending, but we won’t touch the military. The liberals — the ones who are good — will say, oh, we’ll cut the military, but we won’t cut domestic spending … Bottom line is, you have to look at everything across the board.”

The sequester did cut spending across the board. The law forced Congress’ hand. It was exactly the kind of bipartisan agreement that needed to occur if such cuts were ever going to happen.

The Ryan-Murray deal guarantees cuts will never happen. And for certain types of Republicans, that will always be just fine.