Senate Republicans unveiled their plan to avert sequestration this week, and though they are still demanding that the looming budget reductions be offset totally by a different set of budget cuts, they are refusing to say what new budget cuts they prefer. Instead, they want to give President Obama the authority to choose which programs would face cuts as part of the $85 billion plan.
Republicans have, at times, offered specific spending cuts. The House GOP budget decimated Medicare and Medicaid while cutting taxes for the rich, and the GOP offered to replace sequestration in 2012 with a plan that protected defense while shifting all the cuts to domestic programs that have already faced steep reductions. But these proposals have been unsuccessful at brokering a spending compromise with Democrats and deeply unpopular with the American people, who largely want to protect the social safety net.
To avoid that problem, the GOP has often turned to demanding spending cuts without actually naming specific cuts they want, as they attempt to extract painful cuts without taking any of the blame:
1. BUSH TAX CUTS: In 2010, when Republicans wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts, they refused to name actual spending cuts they would support to offset the $4 trillion cost. Instead, Republican lawmakers only detailed programs that were off-limits and said cuts would have to be across-the-board.
2. FISCAL CLIFF: During negotiations to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012, Republicans again struggled to specify exactly how they would cut spending. GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, asked to detail specific spending cuts, could only offer that the GOP was “looking at the spending” and “the growth in government.” The House GOP’s plan to avoid sequestration that time around ultimately made deeper cuts to popular programs so that they could protect the defense budget.
3. DEBT CEILING: Republicans again demanded spending cuts to increase the nation’s borrowing limit last month, and again they had a hard time saying exactly what spending cuts they wanted. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) offered the most honest response yet, saying the GOP couldn’t offer specifics because that would be unpopular. “[A]s soon as a specific is put out there, it is attacked by the spending piranhas on the other side,” King said, ignoring that the “spending piranhas” also include the American people.
4. ENTITLEMENTS: Throughout these budget battles, Republicans have blasted Obama for not putting forward plans to cut entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, ignoring that Obama’s health care law cut Medicare (a fact the GOP was eager to remind Americans of during the November election). But even as Democrats made it clear that they would not support further cuts to entitlements, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) held a press conference to beg them to take the lead. Boehner’s party, perhaps learning from the backlash it has faced when it offered plans to cut Medicare in the past, refused to specify how, or by how much, it would cut entitlement programs.