Off the top of Boehner’s head

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.

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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.