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No matter how much defense spending is trimmed, none of the cuts is likely to reduce the money that’s available to the military to spend on the war fronts.

“We want to make sure men and women put in harm’s way have the resources they need,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, who recently traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan with several of his GOP colleagues, including a number of other freshmen. “That doesn’t mean the entire defense budget has to be taken off the table,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he didn’t think “anything ought to be off-limits for the effort to reduce spending.” He told “Fox News Sunday,” “I don’t think we ought to start out with the notion that a whole lot of areas in the budget are exempt from reducing spending, which is what we really need to do and do it quickly.”

Rep. Kevin Brady, Texas Republican, has proposed cutting total government spending by $153 billion, including deep reductions in defense and elimination of several weapons programs. Mr. Brady called it a “down payment” on getting the country’s finances in order.

In an unusual political pairing, liberal Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, who is a libertarian and former GOP presidential candidate, have joined forces in pushing for substantial reductions in the defense budget, including closing some of the 600-plus military bases overseas.

“I’ll work with anybody,” Mr. Frank said of the effort, which could attract other liberal Democrats who have tried for years to reduce post-Cold War military spending and tea-party-backed Republicans.

The schism within the GOP is philosophical as well as generational. Mr. Paul’s 48-year-old son, Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican and a tea party favorite, said all spending should come under scrutiny, from food stamps to foreign aid to money for wars.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, worries about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican Party.

For all the talk, one tea party group is willing to give lawmakers some leeway, provided that they adhere to the movement’s values.

Sal Russo, chief strategist of the Tea Party Express, said the defense budget should be part of the calculation and his organization expects lawmakers to “responsibly bring spending down.” He added that his group will give them “flexibility to do their job.”

Tea-party-backed Rep. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, said lawmakers, “at the end of the day, will take a look at all the fat in the budget.” But he said it was premature with two wars to say how Congress will make the cuts. Mr. Scott has two brothers in the military — one in the Air Force, the other in the Army.