Last month I pointed out that a piece in The Wall Street Journal questioning whether Republicans would cut defense spending only managed to name only two Republicans who were actually on record as wanting to trim the military budget. And both had the same last name: Paul. Now, Rand and Ron Paul are better than nothing, but they're hardly enough to make me believe that a party widely understood to be committed to unlimited defense spending might substantially change its tune. Today, though, Cato's Chris Preble also suggests that the tide may be turning, and he has a handful of other GOP names to add to the list of potential defense-budget cutters:
More and more figures on the right—especially some darlings of the all-important tea party movement—are coming forward to utter a conservative heresy: that the Pentagon budget cow perhaps should not be so sacred after all.
Sen.-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky was the latest, declaring on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that military spending should not be exempt from the electorate's clear desire to reduce the massive federal deficit. His comments follow similar musings by leading fiscal hawks Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a presumptive contender for the GOP nomination in 2012. Others who agree that military spending shouldn't get a free pass as we search for savings include Sen. Johnny Isakson, Sen. Bob Corker, Sen.-elect Pat Toomey—the list goes on.
Preble's list is more persuasive than the Journal's, and I certainly hope there are more names to add in the near future. But I'm still not sure it can compete with the line of conservative powerhouses, including Sarah Palin, Bill Kristol, and the presidents of both AEI and Heritage, who've stepped up to defend ever-increasing military spending. Still, there are 60 new Republicans in the House, many of whom ran on cutting spending. If any of them are serious about those cuts, the bloated defense budget is a good place to start. That's especially true given that Democrats, who still control the Senate, aren't quite as likely to object as they might be with other types of cuts, like entitlement spending (though obviously President Obama's record on defense spending isn't so hot either). Certainly there's a lot of fat to be trimmed: Reason's Brian Doherty recently pointed to estimates indicating that we're scheduled to spend as much as $588 billion on overseas wars over the next decade. And Preble, along with Benjamin Friedman, has identified $1.2 trillion in defense expenditures that could be taken out of the budget over the next ten years.
Yet even with the possibility of a bipartisan consensus, it's hard to be too hopeful. After all, in practice escalating defense spending has historically been subject to bipartisan agreement. And if President Obama, who campaigned as an anti-war candidate, can't even stick to his meager promises to start drawing down overseas troop deployments, what are the chances that Republicans will take up the cause of significantly paring back defense spending on their own?