The GOP dilemma: More of these, or tax cuts
The interests of right-wing tax cutters and right-wing defense hawks do not necessarily align with one another, and they will continue to diverge as we go deeper into the looming age of austerity. There is simply no scenario in which the United States will close its yawning deficits exclusively with cuts to popular social programs: One can imagine such a world only by imagining the Democratic Party and all its various constituencies out of existence entirely. Conservatives will be free to argue that both tax hikes and defense cuts should be off limits, but in political reality at least one of the two will have to give [...]
At the moment, the hawks are at a clear disadvantage. From Rand Paul to Grover Norquist, there’s a broad constituency within the conservative movement for shrinking the national security state, either as a compromise necessary to keep domestic spending low or as an end unto itself. But there’s no mirror-image constituency among hawks for raising tax revenue for the sake of maintaining the Pax Americana.
The hawks are at a rhetorical disadvantage vis a vis their stature within the conservative movement, no doubt. The Tea Party doesn't give two shits about the Pentagon, and as this deal shows, will throw it to the wolves in order to prevent tax hikes. All the energy in the GOP, its rising stars, its new blood in Congress -- all of it is focused on taxes. In this post-Osama Bin Laden world, there just isn't much desire to protect the Pentagon's bloated budget any more. And it's too big of a line-item to ignore.
But the hawks have a powerful ally in the Military Industrial Complex, and their lobbyists will be out in full force protecting their $700 billion cash cow. And thus while we spend energy on our side fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare (in addition to other valuable programs), the other side will be pitted in a civil war between its hawks and tax cutting wings.
Remember, there's no way you get anywhere close to a balanced budget without either 1) taking a machete to the defense budget, 2) raise taxes, or 3) both! Those defense contractors won't like options 1 and 3, so they'll be pushing Republicans toward option 2. Seems pretty unlikely that Republicans will bite, but we've never seen the GOP pitted against itself in this fashion.
Reagan and the Bushes kept their hawkish and no-taxes wings happy by running up massive deficits. In this new era of austerity, that option is apparently off the table.
I still think the most likely outcome is that the super committee fails, the trigger is activated, and House Republicans pass a subsequent bill re-funding the Pentagon.
But that option presents the possibility (not probability) that Senate progressives could mount and sustain a filibuster, and the possibility (not probability) that Obama would veto it if it landed on his desk. For a defense industry desperate to hang on to its billions, that's likely too much uncertainty, and it should go all-out to avoid the trigger altogether.
That battle should be fun to watch. At a time when things look as bleak as they do now, we need all the comic relief we can find.
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