Republican Military Deserters

Article excerpt

Byline: Eli Lake

The GOP once uniformly backed big Pentagon budgets. The debt debate is changing that.

The scene at the Rayburn House Office Building felt like a coach's halftime speech to a football team losing by four touchdowns.

"How many people like Ronald Reagan?" Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked the crowd. A bunch of Republican Hill aides dutifully raised their hands.

"And how many people like peace through strength?" More hands raised. Then Graham, an Air Force reservist colonel, asked, "What the hell happened to that party?"

Graham's exasperated comment last week reflects an unexpected divide developing inside the Republican Party, which for a quarter century has been a coalition of hawks, tax cutters, and social conservatives united under a Reagan banner.

The willingness of many in the Tea Party to take the budget knife to defense to stave off tax increases has pitted the vibrant new wing against the GOP's longtime military hawks. Democrats are eager to exploit the growing divide this fall as a congressional supercommittee tries to find at least another $1.5 trillion in federal spending cuts over the next 10 years.

"I think there is a split on the Republican side about what their priorities are," concedes Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the special panel.

The Budget Control Act of 2011, the legislation that created the supercommittee to avert what would be the first-ever default on America's debts, has already cut $350 billion in defense spending over the next decade.

If the supercommittee cannot reach a deal by Nov. 23 and Congress can't pass one by Dec. 23, a trigger in the law would cut $600 billion more in defense spending, a doomsday scenario for the hawks that is now forcing some Republicans to privately reconsider their opposition to tax increases.

"The Democrats were artful enough to put the squeeze on Republicans by in effect making them choose between raising taxes and cutting defense expenditures," says former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, who has served in senior national-security jobs in Republican administrations since Reagan. …