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Tea party to GOP: Don't spare Pentagon from budget ax

Tea party-backed GOP freshmen are eyeing the Pentagon – which remains the largest single spender of government dollars. Do they have the clout to target even cherished GOP priorities?

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Tea Party Patriots co-founders Mark Meckler (r.) and Jenny Beth Martin (l.) speak at the National Press Club in Washington in this Nov. 3 file photo. Tea party groups say if the government is going to cut spending, the military's budget needs to be part of the mix. "The mentality that certain programs are 'off the table,' must be taken off the table," Meckler said.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP / File

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For tea party-backed House freshmen, riding into office on vows to slash government spending, the Pentagon's $700 billion dollar budget looks like a ripe target.

But how much influence will they have on 2011 defense spending?

Some argue that tea partyers have already had substantive impacts, possibly influencing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s decision to announce some considerable cuts of his own to the defense budget earlier this month. Many interpreted his announcement as a preemptive strike against calls for deeper reductions in Pentagon spending.

“The cuts announced earlier by Secretary Gates, at least to some degree, have to do with [the administration's] reading of how the salience of deficit reduction has risen since the election,” says Tom Donnelly, director of the Center for Defense Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

The Defense Department cuts include shrinking the size of the Army and Marine Corps after 2014, as well as reducing the use of contractors, on whom the Pentagon has become “far too dependent,” says Gates.

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