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The tea party confronts defense spending, sort of

John Bresnahan talks to Republicans and tea partiers about a question that liberals have been asking for a while: If they're so concerned about the deficit, why not cut defense spending?

The answers are inconclusive. Everyone on the right agrees that there could be defense spending cuts, and Republicans agree that this will help Defense Secretary Robert Gates as he asks for those cuts. But their suggestions are general, not specific. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) tells Bresnahan that to cut the deficit, "we have to be willing to look at domestic spending, we have to be able to look at entitlements, and we have to look at defense.” The only problem?

Pence, however, supports the second engine for the F-35 JSF. Rolls-Royce -- which has secured the first procurement contract related to the F-35 -- is the second-largest employer in the Hoosier state. The company has more than 4,000 employees in the Indianapolis area alone, demonstrating once again that all politics is local, even for tea party backers.

Other tea party figures said the movement should not get bogged down in fights over which federal programs to keep or slash, including weapons programs. They prefer to stay more general in opposing government spending and deficits.

There's the lack of specificity. Conservatives can run down their preferred domestic spending cuts in five seconds -- end TARP, recover unused stimulus money, scrap the Department of Education. But unless you're Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), you're not proposing deep and serious defense cuts. In this, the tea parties are no different than the Republicans of 10 or 20 years ago -- domestic spending gets cut first, defense spending is inviolate if it can be argued that it's keeping America safer.

By David Weigel  |  June 7, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  National Security  
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