Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 7, 2011

OFF THE TOP OF BOEHNER'S HEAD.... Cutting government spending is, if their rhetoric is to be believed, Republicans' raison d'etre. It's why they run for office. It's what drives them. It's what helps wake them up in the morning.

And yet, pressing GOP leaders on what, exactly, they'd like to cut tends to produce nothing but blank stares. During the campaign season, this was slightly easier to understand -- programs tend to be popular, and Republicans faced a voter backlash if they got too specific before Election Day.

But the midterms have come and gone, and GOP officials still aren't prepared to talk about their signature issue. Wednesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was pressed on the "Today" show for some specifics. Ryan responded that he "can't tell you the answer" on what cuts he'd pursue.

Yesterday, it was House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) turn. NBC's Brian Williams broached the subject, and to his credit, Boehner said the Pentagon and Homeland Security budgets are on the table.

But Williams pressed further, asking a straightforward question: "What goes? Name a program right now that we could do without." The Speaker replied, "I don't think I have one off the top of my head."

I guess I shouldn't be surprised -- it's not uncommon for Republicans to stumble when asked to back up their rhetoric with substance -- but I'd assumed there'd be a handful of spending cuts that GOP leaders keep on hand, just to use in conversation.

Hell, for conservatives this should be easy. For years, there's been a list of stand-by cuts trotted out just as a matter of course -- foreign aid, the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR, maybe the IRS budget, etc. These are cheap and largely pointless responses, but at least they're responses.

Atrios added, "By now [Republicans] should have been able to at least make something up, like cutting the free Cadillacs for unemployed strapping bucks program that is bankrupting the nation."

It's not even a trick question. The heart of the Republican agenda is cutting spending, so Republicans should, at a minimum, be able to point to spending that deserves to be cut.

That the new House Speaker literally can't think of anything off the top of his head, the same week that his caucus decided to scrap their promise to slash $100 billion from the budget, points to a certain lack of seriousness in the GOP's rhetoric.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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This is exactly my thought, when I saw Boehner on TV, they have said for months they were going to cut all the wasteful spending, one would have thought they would have made some kind of plan, it looks like they are empty suits, with empty heads who will say anything and stand for nothing.I hate what they supposedly stand for,I guess it is just that they want power.

Posted by: JS on January 7, 2011 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

A correction to Benen's posting...

"The heart of the Republican agenda is cutting spending..."

should read

"The heart of the Republican political agenda for getting elected is to pretend that they want to and know how to cut spending..."

Posted by: AmusedOldVet on January 7, 2011 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

It's unreasonable to expect a sensible answer from a guy who drinks as much as Boehner does.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on January 7, 2011 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Blank stares and cut spending for everyone but me!!


And they're allowed to get away with this shit too!

Posted by: Trollop on January 7, 2011 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

If you think the interview with Brian Williams was revealing, you should have seen his first press conference yesterday with his sidekick Eric Cantor.

What was really astonishing was that reporters were actually asking some good questions with follow-ups for clarification. Speaker Boehner looked very uncomfortable and Eric Cantor looked like he wanted to exit stage right. It was clear from his comments that they had adopted a new Luntz talking point "the job-killing health care bill"".

P.M. Carpenter posted a hilarious commentary on the press conference that had me screaming with laughter. Here's a taste:
January 06, 2011


I just watched John Boehner's first press conference as Speaker of the House. And I swear I almost called 911 -- for him.

While at the podium the poor man apparently came down with Tourette's, or perhaps something worse -- maybe the onset of the chronic realization that he was in way, way over his head: he started barking "jobs-killing health care bill" and never seemed to stop.

Out of work? That's because of Obama's "jobs-killing health care bill." The nation's in debt? That's because of Obama's "jobs-killing health care bill." How do we advance on both fronts? Kill Obama's "jobs-killing health care bill."



Posted by: Ladyhawke on January 7, 2011 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, don't be too hard on the guy. I've pulled a few Boehners in my time as well.

Posted by: Tom Allen on January 7, 2011 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

"It's not even a trick question"

No, that's a CLEAR CUT "gotcha" question.

Posted by: Mark-NC on January 7, 2011 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

I saw it yesterday and could not help but think of ...."why all of them Katie" A perfect Sarah moment when the vacuousness and lack of ideas hits reality. I mean what kind of stupid person is he ? Did he not think the question might come up? I guess he knows it doesn't matter .They can get away with anything . My favorite from yesterday on NPR discussing the Health care repeal . They told me (and I am not making this up )that the Republicans "overspoke" when describing the push that Americans are opposed to HCR. I guess they are officially banned from usuing the word LIED.

I give up.

Posted by: John R on January 7, 2011 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK


This just in..... the New Speaker of the USHOR was rendered speechless when asked what spending cuts he would vote for......

Is it just possible that his ability to govern is as genuine as his orange tan?

We are now 2.2 days into the new GOP era and I haven't seen one shred of evidence that they understand what they were elected to do. They don't seem to believe in doing their homework and are disdainful of those who insist that they answer straightforward questions.


Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 7, 2011 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, that's it. Those poor Republicans just don't know what they're doing. Has nothing to do with who's bankrolling their campaigns, stuffing their pockets and gaming the system. They all just happen to not know how to govern responsibly.

Amigo, they understand exactly what they were elected to do.

Posted by: beejeez on January 7, 2011 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

With a compliant press corps who go out of their way to ensure that Republicans and conservatives are not embarrassed about this.

And seeing that they don't have anything to respond with when asked about specific cuts, the media will not ask them again, and will generally continue to actively seek out stories and memes that tell us just how awesome Republicans are, and look at how they are punching those damn hippies.

While it shouldn't, it still continuously amazes me that anyone--be they conservative or democratic or whatever--can just get away with this kind of thing, without repercussions. You know, like being laughed out of the room and forever relegated to the political wilderness for their evident lack of anything remotely resembling command of issues and action on them. But then again, it's all about the Benjamins, isn't it? Their one and only function--the media and politicians all--is make the rich richer on the backs of the rest of us.

Posted by: terraformer on January 7, 2011 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

Fortunately for our future as a nation, not all Republican Congressional Leaders are as apparently silly as Boehner...

For example, there is the new darling of Fox News and the corporate media talking head shows - Darrell Issa! The one and only Darrell Issa who gets to investigate the Obama administration.

He has been loudly proclaiming that Obama is corrupt!

Then he explained that Obama is corrupt, but has not done anything criminal!

Now, he explains that Obama is corrupt like a hard disk!

Therefore, Issa will hold countless and endless Congressional Hearings about how to fix the bad sectors on Obama!

But then again, maybe ALL of the Repuke Congressional Misleaders are silly...

Posted by: AmusedOldVet on January 7, 2011 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

But I thought the federal government is a bloated monstrosity that is almost wholly comprised of wasteful pork that is for the sole benefit of sinister pointy headed Washington bureaucrats. It should be breathtakingly easy for these guys to name programs that deserve an ignominious place on the dustbin of history!!

Surely it isn't possible that these patriotic, red-blooded Christian AMERICANS engaged in ridiculously gross distortion and lies in order to gain elective office?

Posted by: JD on January 7, 2011 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

re terraformer...

For your elucidation, I provide the following clarifications:

'The media' are corporately owned.
'The reporters' are employees of the corporately owned media.
'The reporters' like to keep their lucrative jobs.

If you have ever worked in the corporate world, you know that their are limits beyond which you dare not cross without losing your employment.

The corporately owned media are driven by the same objectives as the rest of the corporate/wealthy interests; that of assuring the increased wealth of the wealthy.

So long as repuke objectives are more consistent with the objectives of the wealthy ruling class than the objectives of the dumbocraps, the wealthy ruling class will assure that their corporately owned media are little more than an echo chamber and message amplifier for the Frank Luntz created repuke talking points.

If you know in your heart that the only problem with our nation's economy is that the wealthy do not have enough wealth, it all makes complete sense!

Posted by: SadOldVet on January 7, 2011 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Has there ever been a political party this shallow?

Posted by: cld on January 7, 2011 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

C'mon -- these guys are brand new to Congress! They've not had a chance to think about it!

Oh, and the R's purpose isn't to cut spending. It is to make sure the rich get much, much, much richer.

Posted by: R on January 7, 2011 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

To be fair, he did mention one program during his interview with Williams....The Job Killing Obamacare.

Now, my Google tells me that it finds 18,500 hits today for that exact phrase. If past is prologue, expect this newly trotted-out meme to be ridden by republicans like a cheap whore. Prediction: Over 1 million hits on my google 3 weeks from now.

Posted by: SWENXOF on January 7, 2011 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Poor Boehner is in a tough situation. After decades of rule by centrists and right-wingers, all the easy stuff is already gone. Now the only things left are stuff their corporate masters pay them to defend, not cut, except for things that they plan on looting that would upset the rubes and marks if they mention it out loud.

The big remaining area of wasteful government spending is subsidies to corporations and agribusiness, and that's what he's hired to provide!

Posted by: biggerbox on January 7, 2011 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, stop living in the past. Government waste was soooooo 2010. The year of our lord MMXI will be about castrating the Obama administration with investigations of virtual corruption.

Posted by: AndThenThere'sThat on January 7, 2011 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

"Overspoke", John R? It's NPR (Nice Polite Republicans) so that doesn't surprise me much. Still, it's a bit early in the year to introduce the newest Orwellian term.

Posted by: Tom Allen on January 7, 2011 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

What? No breaking into blubbering mode when questioned - I thought that was the go to response for Boehner whenever the "American Dream" was mentioned, he was confused, or had gas. Seriously, the sight of an alcoholic corporate shill like Boehner crying at the Speaker's lectern while clutching his oversized gavel (don't think too long on that) seems more appropriate to an AA meeting than the US Congress.

Posted by: Diane Rodriguez on January 7, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

cld -- Possibly the Know-Nothings, but at least they were honest when asked what they stood for ("I don't know"), thus earning their nickname.

Posted by: Redshift on January 7, 2011 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

New reality show, "The Peter Principle", starring John Boehner.

Posted by: mmm on January 7, 2011 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

DOD, 700 bases worldwide, thousands of troops in Europe, thousands of double dippers from the military's revolving door directly into defense lobbying or contractor jobs - let the cutting begin.

Posted by: max on January 7, 2011 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

The GOP has held the House for less than one week and their Wizard of Oz style of governing is already out from behind the curtain. That's what happens when a Party is all Politics and no Policy. Fan the hate, tell the TeaBaggers what they want to hear, get elected, go to the dance and realize they don't know any steps. One week in and there's been a years worth of hilarious missteps. Blowing the CBO off like Boner did will come back to haunt them, big time.

Posted by: T2 on January 7, 2011 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Mark-NC...asking for one example of a program that should be cut is a "gotcha" question? It's not a "gotcha" question, it's an obvious one. Spending cuts = specificity. They've been campaigning on cutting spending for over a year now. It's absolutely fair to ask what, specifically, they would cut.

Posted by: Mike Lamb on January 7, 2011 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

You know, Steve, cute snark is fine. But I think it's worth describing, as baldly as possible, what the GOP agenda really is. Sure, cutting spending so that government can't do anything but kill people, that's part of the agenda.

But the bigger agenda is ALWAYS "we just want the power to fuck with the Democrats, and, more important even than that, to give our rich friends as much tax money as possible, so that they'll reward us with nice, plum, high-paying gigs until we die."

More or less. The GOP is simply a collection of pirates at this point. Robbing the country for the benefit of their rich patrons.. and not much else.

Posted by: LL on January 7, 2011 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously, if at this point the Republicans cannot identify a list of specific programs that they would cut, then they should all receive pay cuts. But, alas, we live on the Bizarro Planet (TM).

Posted by: josef on January 7, 2011 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

For those who more about Speaker Bonehead, go read Matt Taibbi at his ass-kicking best with a devastating portrait of the "leader" of the House Republicans:


Posted by: TCinLA on January 7, 2011 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK



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