Still, the neoconservatives hold enormous sway within the GOP, more than they did during the Clinton years, so why did the fiscal hawks win this time around? And are they likely to prevail in the future? Some of those in the trenches have a few answers.
First of all, at just 6.5 percent of total national defense spending (the Pentagon base budget plus war costs), the cuts aren't that deep, and, echoing Norquist, there was a sense among fiscal conservatives and taxpayer advocates that a failure to cut this time around would be the death knell for any future cuts. Even under sequestration, U.S. military spending will remain near historic highs in real, inflation-adjusted dollars. Over the next decade, the Pentagon's base budget, which excludes the costs of the wars, will average about what the United States spent in 2006, and will even exceed what it spent on average during the Cold War.
Undaunted, the Pentagon's budget boosters claimed that cuts in military spending would cause massive economic dislocation and throw hundreds of thousands of people out of work. "Sequestration will... crush our economy, devastate our defense industrial base, and put tens of thousands of Americans out of work," asserted Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). The GOP platform upped the ante, claiming that sequestration would result "in the layoff of more than 1 million skilled workers." But this approach also fell flat.
The job loss claims were based on two widely cited studies commissioned by the Aerospace Industries Association. Both were deeply flawed methodologically and conceptually. They relied on assumptions about the multiplier effects of such spending that were completely inconsistent with the scholarly literature, and therefore grossly exaggerated the harmful economic effects of such cuts.
More substantively, studies that focused only on the job losses that might result from lower military spending ignored the beneficial effects that would result from lower deficits and less debt. As threats to U.S. national security diminish, it is appropriate that resources will shift out of the military sector and into the more productive private sector.
That, at least, is what most conservatives believe. When the defense hawks claimed, as some did, that Pentagon spending had almost magical job-creating powers, whereas every other form of government spending was wasteful and counterproductive, such "weaponized Keynesianism" wasn't very convincing.