One of the most telling but little-noticed votes this past year came in the House, where a coalition of Democrats led by liberal Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., combined forces to persuade lawmakers to freeze defense spending at the current level, cutting $1.1 billion from the $608 billion bill.
The vote was 247-167, with 89 Republicans joining 158 Democrats. It was the clearest signal yet that defense dollars were no longer spared from budget cuts in a time of astronomical deficits.
"Austerity to me means spending less," Mulvaney said at the time. "Total government spending will be up this year. We're still facing a $1 trillion deficit. We need to do better to get our spending under control."
Conservatives from anti-tax leader Grover Norquist to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, have spoken openly about defense cuts. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, has rejected the oft-repeated Republican contention that defense spending means jobs.
In an interview with the Cato Institute several months ago, he talked of combating "the idea that the Defense Department is a jobs program."
John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said Republicans are split on defense spending and Norquist speaks for many of Congress' tea partyers.
"I think the tide has kind of turned in some ways against defense thanks to the tea party. They're so much against any kind of spending that they don't exclude defense from that," Isaacs said.
Absent from the next Congress will be many of the protectors of the Pentagon — 18-term Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.
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