This new generation of conservatives in Congress, freed from the ideologies of the Cold War and Reagan-era defense buildups, is pushing Republicans to buck their tradition and put defense on the chopping block in pursuit of a truly smaller federal government.

The group includes GOP rookies like Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Paul Gosar of Arizona and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas who simply aren’t concerned by the blunt slash to defense spending as long as it accomplishes the goal of deficit reduction. Others, like Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, aren’t particularly thrilled with the way the sequester cuts are made or the way the debt deal was done to begin with, but they’re ready to talk seriously about how to make cuts to mandatory military spending. And South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, one of the most conservative members of the House, led a group of Republicans and liberal Democrats that sent a letter to the White House and congressional leaders calling on them to include serious defense cuts in a fiscal cliff deal.

Mulvaney, who teamed up with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) earlier this year to pass an amendment that froze defense spending, said the sequester is the wrong way to cut the Pentagon’s budget and believes there are alternative ways to come up with the cuts. But, he said, “the only thing worse [than the sequester] would be to not cut spending at all.” Mulvaney has been outspoken about the need to find savings in the defense budget…

“We either have a spending problem or we don’t,” Gosar said in an interview. “Going back to the military budget of 2009 — we’re still going to have the biggest military in the world. If we can’t go over this bump, we’ll never be able to get anything big done.”