When it comes to government spending, defense has always been a high priority for Republicans. It’s not too difficult to see why, though, as part of the Republican mindset is that America needs to be prepared to defend its interests at home and abroad, and a strong military is a big part of that.
Over time, however, the constituents’ desire for a ready-and-willing military has waned. This has been especially true in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, when the unintended concept of the “permanent war” became a thing in the voters’ minds. And as we shifted to our most recent populist phase of American politics – a phase that saw Donald Trump elected President of the United States and a re-focusing on American isolationism – we as a country lost some of our taste for military action (and military spending).
That brings us to the present, where there are essentially two types of Republicans when it comes to defense spending: Pre-Trump Republicans hellbent on maintaining and even increasing defense spending and Post-Trump Conservatives, who are more interested in reducing all spending to the point that military spending could even be considered.
What we’re seeing right now is a brewing spat between both sides and, interestingly, it’s a noticeable split between Republican leaders in Congress.
One day after Speaker Kevin McCarthy came out against exceeding the spending caps set by his debt-limit deal with President Joe Biden, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dug in to insist that more must be done to support the nation’s defense interests.
McConnell took to the floor to call the Biden administration’s defense budget, whose levels the bipartisan debt deal matched, “simply insufficient given the major challenges that our nation faces.” He cited “growing threats from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and terrorists emboldened by America’s retreat from Afghanistan.”
That puts the Senate GOP leader in line with hawks vowing to push for a fresh defense spending bill to pad the Pentagon’s coffers, which they say got short shrift in the Biden-McCarthy deal plan to the detriment of U.S. national security. It’s a significant bit of daylight between McConnell and McCarthy — and a sign of intra-GOP tension to come over whether to approve new help for Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Lindsey Graham, a defense hawk in the Senate, is one of the few to speak out publicly on the subject.
“The speaker [sic] will never convince me that 2 percent below actual inflation is fully funding the Defense Department,” he said in a statement quoted in the story above. “That cannot be the position of the Republican Party without some context here.”
McConnell definitely represents the old-school Republicans who favor higher levels of defense spending. It has always been one of the highest priorities of the GOP. But as more Republicans who came into their own during this populist moment got into office, more of them started questioning the sacred cows of the past.
McCarthy, meanwhile, is in a tough spot. He had to work hard to sell the debt ceiling deal to his caucus, and now members of his party have immediately started working on a bill to increase spending in defense, and even some Democrats are on board. The divide between House and Senate leadership is growing stark.
But the question really does become whether or not we need to increase military spending. There are plenty of reasons to question whether or not the Biden administration should be allowed more money to continue increasing DEI initiatives in the military, after all.
But, on a more serious note, we need a really good breakdown of where that money is actually going before we commit to increased spending, don’t we? What, exactly, does Lindsey Graham want to see increased spending on, other than “more money to at least match inflation”? Which branches need the most? What will that money be used for to protect America’s interests?
Defense spending is important, and it’s probably the most important spending in our budget. But it may not actually be the sacred cow Republicans in the past have made it out to be. Maybe there’s some room to tighten the military’s belt a bit while still maintaining readiness should the worst happen.