Grover Norquist, an influential Republican lobbyist in Washington, is advising his party's lawmakers to cut the defense budget deeply to avoid a major federal tax hike.
His remarks on Monday were another sign of splintering views in Republican ranks about spending on national defense that presently consumes about half of the discretionary federal budget — with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney going in one direction and some Republican lawmakers and lobbyists headed in a different direction.
Norquist, a long-time anti-tax crusader in Washington, said in a talk at the Center for The National Interest that Republicans should not be pushing for increased spending on defense when the national deficit has ballooned. Instead, he said, lawmakers should embrace the need to balance the budget and cut wasteful projects, which he said could be done without negatively impacting national security.
“You need to decide what your real defense needs are,” said Norquist. “That doesn’t mean chairmen of certain committees get to build bases in their states. That’s not a defense need ... [but] a political desire.” The debate so far, he said, has been marked by a lack of “serious conversation” on the Hill. However, he predicted that many of the Republicans unwilling to cut defense spending would either retire or be replaced in the November elections.
Norquist, expressing views typical among more isolationist Republicans, decried foreign interventions such as Iraq and Afghanistan. “Bush decided to be the mayor of Baghdad rather than the president of the United States,” he said. “He decided to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan rather than reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That had tremendous consequences.”
Mitt Romney, in contrast, has called for spending a minimum of four percent of the GDP on national defense — even more than preferred by his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. But Ryan's opposition to the Obama administration's plan to keep defense spending mostly level has led him into conflict with some of the nation’s top military leaders. Early this year, Ryan asserted that Pentagon officials were lying to Congress to fall in line with President Obama’s desire to forgo a planned military spending hike.
“We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don’t think the generals believe that their budget is really the right budget,” Ryan said in March. His statement drew a quick rebuke from Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey, and Ryan later apologized.
A joint poll conducted by The Center for Public Integrity and the Stimpson Center earlier this year found widespread public support for defense cuts. Around three-quarters of those surveyed called for cuts to the air, ground and naval forces, and over eighty percent supported a statement that current defense spending includes much waste.
The Obama administration, however, has had difficulty selling some of its proposed military budget changes to Congress — including a proposed cut in spending on the M1 Abrams Tank. Many lawmakers predict that the military budget debate will not be even partially resolved until after November’s election.