Is There a Bipartisan Coalition for Defense Cuts?

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The specter of spending cuts is sweeping through Republican Party. But rather than raise its scythe over liberal favorites like the education department, the latest wave has co-opted Democratic causes.

When Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell endorsed a moratorium on earmarks yesterday, it was a small but clear sign that the conservative, "Tea Party" fringe of the party, led by Sen. Jim DeMint, might wield surprising power in the next two years in Washington. McConnell's concession was a symbolic gesture about a largely symbolic item (last year earmarks made up $17 billion in a $3.7 trillion budget), but it has produced a surprising alliance.

Standing firm against pork, Senate Republicans now find themselves holding hands with the White House, for once. The president released a statement praising the moratorium, and reminding Americans that he's been quietly, and not so quietly, for this kind of action for a long time. "As a Senator, I helped eliminate anonymous earmarks," he said, "and as President, I've called for new limitations on earmarks and set new, higher standards of transparency and accountability."

Also today, Sen. John McCain announced that he sees room for up to $100 billion in defense cuts, including the $400 million Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter program. He has support from Tea Party celebrity Rand Paul, who recently won a Senate seat in Kentucky, and Sen. Tom Coburn, who has repeatedly called for cuts to the Pentagon budget. Meanwhile, the report from chairmen of the deficit commission called for aggressive cuts in the Pentagon's budget -- far more than the White House felt comfortable calling for when they proposed a non-security (ie non-defense, non-homeland security, non-veterans spending) discretionary budget freeze.

The White House and the resurgent Republican leadership in the 112th Congress will not agree on much in the next two years. That includes: tax policy, stimulus policy, energy policy, nuclear policy ... you know, policies. But with the GOP's net spread wide to catch as many spending reduction ideas as possible, Democrats might have an opportunity to work across the aisle to reduce spending in key areas, including GOP sacred cows like defense.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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