Long-term bedrock incision is driven by daily discharge events of variable magnitude and frequency, with ineffective events below an incision threshold. We explore theoretically how this short-term stochastic behavior controls long-term steady state incision rates and bedrock channel profiles, combining a realistic frequency-magnitude distribution of discharge with a deterministic, detachment-limited incision model in which incision rate is a power function of basal shear stress above a critical shear stress. Our model predicts a power law relationship between steady state slope and drainage area consistent with observations. The exponent of this power law is independent of discharge mean and variability, while the amplitude factor, which controls mountain belt relief, is a power law function of mean runoff (with an exponent of −0.5) and a complex function of runoff variability. In accordance with evidence that incision occurs between 6 and 20% of time in rapidly incising rivers (>1 mm/yr) our model predicts that channel steepness is virtually insensitive to runoff variability. Runoff variability can only decrease channel steepness for very slow incision rates and/or weak lithologies. The relationship between channel steepness and incision rate is always a power law whose exponent depends on the channel cross-sectional geometry and runoff variability. This contradicts models neglecting discharge stochasticity in which the steepness-incision scaling is set by the incision law exponent. Our results suggest that changes in climate variability cannot explain an increase in bedrock incision rates during the Late Cenozoic within the context of a detachment limited model.