Tea Party activists: Bring on defense cuts

Tea Party activists say the Pentagon should be targeted for cuts by the “supercommittee” created in the debt-ceiling deal.

Groups affiliated with the conservative grassroots movement say defense cuts should be on the table as the supercommittee tries to compile at least $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts.

The pressure from Tea Party groups could put pressure on establishment Republicans named to the supercommittee, who may wish to protect the Pentagon from severe cuts.

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“Nothing should be sacred, and everything needs to be evaluated and cut as much as it can be,” said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.

Tea Party activists say defense programs should come under the same knife as any other taxpayer-funded programs, and that massive national security budgets were not exempt from their definition of “big government.”

“The liberty movement is about the fundamental limitation of government, and that doesn’t have departmental boundaries with regards to this principle,” said Chris Littleton, co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council.

No defense hawks have been appointed to the committee yet, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yet to announce her picks.

The most notable defense hawk passed over for a spot on the panel is House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who had called for a strong defense voice on the committee. Instead, the Republican picks have all vowed to oppose any tax increases, suggesting that the party leadership has placed higher priority on preventing tax increases than on avoiding defense cuts.

That’s not to say the defense industry doesn’t have friends on the panel.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who was one of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) picks, has advocated for Boeing tanker contracts, which brought jobs to her state.

The Pentagon is likely to be hit by further budget cuts no matter what under the deal signed into law by President Obama.

That legislation would impose up to $350 billion in cuts over the next decade on the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, among others.

The deal also includes “triggers” set off if the supercommittee fails to reach a deal on $1.2 trillion in cuts. The triggers would lead to $500 billion in more cuts over the next decade to agencies charged with defense and homeland security if the supercommittee fails to reach its target. By outlining automatic spending cuts split evenly between defense and domestic programs, the triggers are intended to motivate Republicans and Democrats into brokering a comprehensive agreement.

But defense hawks warn the triggers could lead to severe cuts that would hurt the military at a time when it remains engaged in multiple wars. McKeon has said the proposal threatens to turn “a debt crisis into a national security crisis.”

Democrats had hoped the triggers might convince Republicans on the supercommittee to agree to tax hikes to avoid defense cuts, but Tea Party groups appear to be much more relaxed about the Pentagon cuts than tax increases.

“The compromise isn’t over whether or not to increase taxes,” said Max Pappas, vice president of public policy at FreedomWorks. “The compromise is over where to cut.

“So the left is going to have to compromise and cut some domestic welfare spending, and the right is going to have to compromise and cut some military spending.”

Activists in the Tea Party movement also warn they will take note of any lawmakers in either party who object to spending cuts.

“No member of Congress is safe,” said Amy Kremer, co-chairman of Tea Party Express. “We’re holding everyone accountable.”