This week, Republicans swept to power by promising to cut, in the words of Indiana's Mike Pence, "runaway federal spending." But when it comes to putting taxpayers' money where their mouths are, Pence, incoming Speaker John Boehner, future Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann and much of the cowardly GOP's top-brass refuse to say what budget cuts they will actually make. And now to add insult to injury, many of the leading lights of the Republican Party are waiting for recommendations from President Obama's deficit commission, a panel whose creation they opposed.
For months, Republicans have refused to "man up" to the draconian budget cuts their tough-talking campaign pledges would necessarily require. Pressed by NBC's David Gregory last month, Mike Pence could not "name the painful choice on a program that you're going to cut." Asked seven times by Chris Wallace of Fox News, failed GOP California Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina responded only, "you're asking a typical political question." Even as he touted the "GOP Pledge to America," Speaker-to-Be Boehner dodged Wallace as well:
Let's not get to the potential solutions. Let's make sure Americans understand how big the problem is. Then we can talk about possible solutions and then work ourselves into those solutions that are doable.
That charade has only continued since the election. Within 24 hours, Cantor, Bachmann and Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn all did the duck-and-cover on spending cuts. With defense, Social Security and Medicare (not to mention interest on the national debt) off the table, the unexplained GOP pledge to cut $100 billion in "discretionary" spending would necessarily gut the departments of Education, Transportation, Interior, Commerce and Energy by more than 20%.
And as was on display on Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN Thursday, the comic cowardice of the ersatz Republican spending hawks has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. Refusing to reveal what Boehner described as "lot of tricks up our sleeves in terms of how we can dent this," Republicans are now saying they will wait for President Obama's deficit commission to weigh in.
To make that point, Cooper showed a Meet the Press clip of Texas Senator and NRSC head John Cornyn using President Obama as a human shield:
DAVID GREGORY: What painful choices to really deal with the deficit, is Social Security on the table? What will Republicans do?
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), CHAIR, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORS: The president has a debt commission that reports December the 1st and I think we'd all like to see what they come back with. And my hope is they'll come back for the bipartisan solution to the debt and particularly entitlement reform, as you -- as you've mentioned.
But I --
DAVID GREGORY: But wait a minute, conservatives need a -- a Democratic president's debt commission to figure out what it is they'd want to cut?
Former Bush chief of staff Andy Card also argued that discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to Republicans and their budget machismo:
I do think it's appropriate to wait for the -- the wisdom that might come from this debt commission. They're going to have to make some tough recommendations and see how the president reacts. I think it's much too early to be talking about specific program cuts that are only designed to inflame the debate rather than be constructive and really bringing discipline to the government. The president is the one that will have to propose a budget. Congress will have to react to it.
As it turns out, the new Republican majority lack both courage and a sense of irony. After all, the deficit commission was established by President Obama's executive order after a bill to create it was filibustered in the Senate by 53-46. That defeat came only after several Republican Senators voted against the very bill they once supported. As Politics Daily summed it up:
This reversal early this year involved six Republican co-sponsors of such a commission who voted against their own Senate bill. The six were McCain, Brownback, Mike Crapo of Idaho, John Ensign of Nevada, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and James Inhofe of Oklahoma. McConnell had once supported the idea, but he too voted against it. The bill required an up-or-down vote on the commission recommendations. McConnell and others said they feared the panel might suggest raising taxes.
And so it goes. Aside from Paul Ryan (whose plan to privatize Social Security and Medicare made him a GOP pariah during election season), virtually the entire Republican leadership team tried to run out the clock before Election Day without ever detailing the spending cuts they claimed to champion. Now, these same born-again deficit hawks are too afraid to stand on their supposed principles. The first move in the game of budget chess, they insist, is Obama's.