The GOP's eternal sacred cow

During the recent midterm election, spending and the U.S. deficit and tax cuts for the rich – also known as the Bush tax cuts on high-income Americans – were significant campaign issues. During a recent broadcast of “The David Pakman Show,” I detailed why any Democratic compromise on tax cuts for the rich, a policy of governing by the few for the few, would be politically disadvantageous for Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers in the context of the 2012 election.

I argued that it was a lose-lose for Obama to extend those tax cuts, even temporarily. Here, I want to address the second of the two issues: Spending and the deficit.

Tea Party candidates, Republican incumbents, Republican challengers and even Republicans not up for re-election last month made spending, debt and the deficit an important part of their campaign platforms. In virtually all cases, they argued that government is too big, spending too high and the deficit must be reduced.

All areas of government spending were on the table in thinking about how to trim spending, which was considered a “must-do” by the GOP. We heard ad nauseam how “serious” conservative politicians were about cutting spending.

As many polls showed, voters mostly saw spending and the deficit as one of the Republicans’ “best,” or most popular positions, and also believed that Republicans would be more effective at making those promises a reality if elected.

In short, voters believed that Republicans weren’t just saying they would reduce spending # they would actually do it.

It turns out that President Obama’s 18-member deficit commission, in a draft of a proposal set to be released in its final form any day now, suggested a number of cost-cutting measures, including about $150 billion in defense cuts, including a 10 percent cut in research and development, as well as the redeployment of one-third of U.S. troops stationed in Europe and Asia.

While some would argue the U.S. military should remove all troops stationed in certain countries overseas and that their respective bases be shut entirely, I won’t engage that argument here. I will assert that drawing down the number of troops in, for example, Japan, by one-third would not negatively affect U.S. interests or citizens.

Republicans, however, aren’t interested in a measured and reasonable way to reduce a fraction of the bloated and ever-rising defense budget. At the Foreign Policy Initiative’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, a California Republican, said the military budget is not something that can be trimmed. He argued that defense spending is vital to national interests. “A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline,” said McKeon, adding that “even a 1 percent increase in defense spending over the next five years is tantamount to a spending cut.”

If you’re wondering why anyone would care about what Buck McKeon says about defense spending # and that’s a great question # he’s likely the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and will influence how much money goes to defense and how it’s spent.

McKeon’s comments, in addition to other snippets of information recently slipping quietly into the media streams, suggest that we can expect Republicans to not only refuse to cut defense or military spending, but to campaign for its continued increase as a percentage of the national budget. McKeon is saying that reducing defense spending is not an option, maintaining defense spending level is not an option, and even increasing defense spending a small amount is not an option.

For McKeon, anything short of a significant and continued increase in defense spending is inadequate.

In the context of needing to reduce spending no matter what, without “taking anything off the table,” Republican lawmakers are suggesting that one thing is very much on the table: defense spending. It must increase, they say, and will not be counted as part of the “spending crisis” many Republican and Tea Party campaigns were built around this fall.

The modest suggestion of a minor reduction in research and development and reduction in troops in allied countries is looked at almost laughably by many on the right. To those who accuse me of just criticizing Republicans, I will add a final note: Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush, actually proposed pulling troops out of countries where a reduction in the U.S. military presence would be logical, and both Democrats and Republicans heartily opposed the idea.

David Pakman of Northampton, host of “The David Pakman Show,” writes a monthly column. He can be reached at david@davidpakman.com

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