The next debt fight: Will the GOP cave on taxes to prevent defense cuts?

When a congressional "super committee" hammers out the debt deal's spending cuts, the Pentagon's budget could be the crux of the drama

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets graduating
(Image credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

Under the debt deal signed into law this week, automatic across-the-board spending cuts — including $500 billion slashed from the Defense Department — will be triggered if a bipartisan "super committee" can't agree this fall on a plan to cut $1.5 trillion from the deficit. The Democrats' great hope going into this autumn's talks: That Republicans, presumably anxious to preserve the military budget, may accept tax increases as part of that deficit-reduction plan, even though they've refused to budge on taxes to date. A key factor: A growing schism among Republicans. Will the GOP's defense hawks overpower Tea Party fiscal hawks, and give in on taxes to save the Pentagon?

Republicans will have no choice: "I'm optimistic Republicans will defend defense funding," says Tina Korbe at Hot Air, "but that means they'll have to sacrifice taxes." The Democrats would rather stomach automatic cuts to domestic spending than agree to another deal without tax hikes. That means the GOP is likely to "cave on tax hikes" to avoid a deadlock that would undermine our military. That's a shame, in a way, since defense spending isn't the real inflator of our ballooning deficits. Entitlements like Medicare are. That's where the cuts should come.

"Defense Secretary warns against defense cuts to come"

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The GOP should stand firm: Republicans on the super committee should "call the President's/Democrats' bluff on tax increases," says Keith Hennessey at Reuters. Democrats will be "just as desperate" to avoid spending cuts to their favored programs as the GOP will be to protect the Pentagon. And if history is any guide, it's the Democrats who will blink first. Obama and Co. caved in December 2010 when it was time to extend the Bush tax cuts. They caved during the government shutdown fight this spring. And they caved on the debt ceiling this summer. They'll cave again, and the Pentagon will be spared — without tax hikes.

"Political strategy in the Budget Control Act era"

Sorry, Pentagon. But neither side will give in this time: "I hope folks are ready to live with those triggers included in the deal," says Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, because there's almost no chance the super committee will approve anything acceptable to the House, Senate, and President Obama. Republicans were "so irresponsible during the debt-ceiling fight" that you'd have to be delusional to expect them to compromise on taxes, even to save the Pentagon. Democrats' backs are against the wall, and they have to play hardball now. Get ready for deadlock.

"Setting up the super committee"

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