Since the first days of the Obama administration, the reigning dynamic in Washington has been an intense, at times apocalyptic, struggle over the size of government. It shaped the battle over the original stimulus, over health care reform, and over each of the endless series of budget crises–the continuing resolution to fund the government, the debt ceiling increase, the fiscal cliff–that have threatened to blow up Washington (or worse). It shaped the presidential race, too.
The reason why this dynamic has held for so long is that it ordinarily unites the disparate factions of the Republican coalition. But beneath the surface, there’s a lot that coalition doesn’t agree on, and the next big budget battle due to arrive at month’s end–automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration–threatens to expose the rift between one wing of the party (anti-tax Republicans) and another (defense Republicans).
“I have never voted for a tax increase,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said back then. But were that the only way to avoid cutting the Pentagon’s budget, he added, “I would go to strengthen defense.”
McKeon has been notably silent in recent weeks. But other defense Republicans have begun speaking out. “I think any alternative is better than allowing the sequester to take effect,” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla) told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. “If you could say would you rather hollow out the Pentagon or increase taxes, I would support the latter to make sure that we didn’t lose our capability to maintain our superpower status.”