House Republicans are already backing off a promise to cut $100 billion from the federal budget this year. Their excuse? The fiscal year started October 1, so they only have seven months' worth of expenses to cut. And the difficulty of scouring the budget for stuff to cut is compounded by their refusal to cut Social Security, Medicare, defense and homeland security funding. That means everything else--schools, cops, highways--would have been subject to steep cuts of about 20 percent.

So House Republicans scaling down their campaign promise--now deemed a mere hypothetical--by half, The New York Times' Jackie Calmes reports. GOP aides say they had to move the goal posts because Democrats failed to pass an appropriations bill for 2011. "Yet when Republicans issued their pledge last fall," Calmes writes, "it was clear that Congress would resort to a stopgap spending measure for at least part of 2011," and that Republicans wouldn't be able to push through their cuts till they took over the House officially. Conservative pundits are none too pleased.

[E]ven the highly touted $100 billion figure is just a small fraction of last year's deficit. Even with a tea-party Congress, even with a gigantic pool of expenditures to cut from, political reality is such that not only can’t they reach that modest, largely symbolic target in seven months, they'll actually have to move heaven and earth during the next full fiscal year to get Obama and the Senate Democrats to agree to it. This is what we've been reduced to--the suspense of wondering whether the new Republican majority can achieve cuts that will barely make a dent in our annual budget shortfall.
  • Absolutely Infuriating, Patterico writes, wondering if maybe a third party is in order. "More and more, the temptation to leave the keyboard one is calmly typing on, and simply pound the f--ing wall in frustration and dream of an armed insurrection . . . becomes something understandable rather than something we all know we should calmly denounce. Say what you will about President Bush," he adds, "but at least he tried to do something about Social Security. This ridiculous notion that everything that actually contributes to spending must be considered off the table--well, we have to take that notion off the table."
  • Watch Your Back, The Daily Caller's Mike Riggs warns. "Hear that noise? That is the sound of the Tea Partiers sharpening their knives."
  • Fiscal 2012 Is What Matters, The National Review's Rich Lowry argues.
Going forward, I think Obama's strategic play is obvious: Whatever Republicans propose in cuts, he should counter with roughly half as much, and make the difference between the two sound like a matter of enormous principle, a choice between a just and good America and a country of unspeakable cruelty. And he should give himself cover with a smoke-and-mirrors budget that gets close to balance in ten years. Countering the White House is going to take skill, which is why we’re so fortunate Paul Ryan is the Republican on point in this fight.
  • Reality Bites  "The basic situation is that you have a tiny handful of principled conservatives who genuinely want to cut the size of actual government programs," The New Republic's Jonathan Chait says. " But that accounts for a tiny slice of the general opposition to government programs, which is rooted in misperceptions about what government spends money on alongside strong support for the programs that actually exist. Government programs are popular. Some of them serve little purpose (think farm subsidies) but those generally exist precisely because they have powerful constituencies."