It’s easy, and accurate, to blame denialist Democrats for this sorry state of affairs. But there’s another reason that John Boehner should not have been surprised to hear a politician say “We don’t have a spending problem.” After all, the man almost certainly owns a mirror.

In January 2011, after a wave of spending-averse Tea Party freshmen restored a Republican majority to Congress and elevated Boehner from minority leader to speaker, he was asked by NBC’s Brian Williams to name just one “program right now that we could do without.” Boehner’s answer? “I don’t think I have one off the top of my head.”

This is what has passed for Republican political thinking (or, if you prefer, courage) for far too long. Karl Rove, hands still awash in the red ink he helped unleash during the presidency of George W. Bush, advocated in a January Wall Street Journal op-ed that Republicans shy away from naming their own areas to cut (and even from cutting spending overall), and instead take the political cover of backing cuts in spending growth suggested by the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.