What sequester says about who's controlling the Republican Party
The looming cuts to the military and domestic spending are pitting the GOP's defense hawks against its antitax and small-government crusaders. So far, it's pretty clear who's winning.
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Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.
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By contrast, the antitax wing of the party has lately been arguing that the sequester will be no big deal – and, in fact, doesn't go nearly far enough. Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, a tea party conservative who tends to be skeptical when it comes to foreign intervention, told CNN this week that the sequester was a mere "pittance," pointing out that it will only slow the rate of growth of spending, while spending overall will continue to increase. The likely impact of the cuts, according to Senator Paul, "will be in some ways a yawn."
Now, it's true that the antitax wing of the party suffered a defeat of its own a few months back when Republicans agreed to raise taxes as part of a deal to resolve the "fiscal cliff" (putting the sequester off for three more months). But it seems that battle has made them even more determined to win this time around.
At the same time, the relative diminution of the pro-defense wing of the party may have been inevitable – in part, because of the legacy of the Bush years. The GOP's defense hawks are now primarily associated with the unpopular war in Iraq and unpopular public figures like former Vice President Dick Cheney. In fact, frustration with the Bush administration's willingness to spend huge sums of public money on wars and other foreign interventions (as well as on new domestic spending, like the Medicare prescription drug plan) was a primary factor in the creation of the tea party.
The sequester itself may still be resolved at some point – if not before it officially hits next week, then perhaps in subsequent weeks as its effects begin to play out. But the impact of this particular battle on the internal dynamics of the Republican Party – particularly if it establishes the antitax wing as dominant above all others going forward – could be much longer-lasting.