Jonathan Chait nails why Republicans can’t offer specific spending cuts, either in the current negotiations over the fiscal cliff, or—you know—ever:
When the only cuts on the table would inflict real harm on people with modest incomes and save small amounts of money, that is a sign that there’s just not much money to save. It’s not just that Republicans disagree with this; they don’t seem to understand it. The absence of a Republican spending proposal is not just a negotiating tactic but a howling void where a specific grasp of the role of government ought to be. And negotiating around that void is extremely hard to do. The spending cuts aren’t there because they can’t be found.
As Chait points out, the cuts Republicans do propose—to Medicare benefits, to Medicaid spending, to waste abuse—yield small amounts of money. The most significant savings to health care programs come from reducing the growth of overall spending, which is the chief goal of the Affordable Care Act—a program opposed by almost every elected Republican official. Simply put, the only way to get substantial savings out of the social safety net is to dismantle it wholesale.
You could cut our bloated defense budget, but this would run counter to the actual priorities of conservative lawmakers. Their rhetoric notwithstanding, Republican politicians aren’t particularly interested in a smaller, less intrusive government—if that were the case, they’d support a large reduction in military spending, and the overall national security state. Instead, Republicans are reliable supporters of large increases to military spending, and—as we saw with Paul Ryan’s budget—are willing to drastically cut social services in order to fund greater spending on soldiers and military hardware.
And outside of spending, there’s the simple fact that Republicans support intrusive restrictions on reproductive rights, marriage, and the employer/employee relationship. In short, the GOP—or at least, the conservative movement—isn’t interested in small, limited government as much as it just doesn’t want to spend public money on poor people. Once you recognize that, the party’s behavior begins to make much more sense.