The hard line the administration is taking on Medicaid during the fiscal talks has an ancillary effect on the incoherent Republican negotiating position, reflected in John Boehner’s repeated demands that the White House put spending cuts on the table: with Republicans unwilling to unilaterally propose big changes to Social Security and Medicare, and frantic to find offsets to pay for protecting the Pentagon from sequestrations, they are really having trouble coming up with a spending plan of their own that is anything other than numbers pulled out of the air backed up by abstractions. Here’s how Jonathan Chait puts it:

It’s true that Paul Ryan’s budget plan had some deep cuts. But none of those cuts touched Medicare for the next decade or Social Security at all. Ryan just kicked the crap out of the poor. So, that provision aside, if you’re not willing to inflict epic levels of suffering on the very poor, there just aren’t a lot of cuts to be had out there.

But the Medicaid block grant proposal was an important part of Ryan’s plan to “kick the crap out of the poor,” disguised as it was as a “devolution” measure that would unleash the creative genius of the states (who would then typically use it to “kick the crap out of the poor”). So if deep Medicaid cuts are indeed permanently off the table (and Medicaid was already exempted from the domestic spending share of the pending “sequestration” that will go into effect January 1 barring a fiscal deal), Republicans will just have to find another dog to kick.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.