Sen. Rand Paul wants to radically slash the size of our federal government and drastically limit its responsibilities. Oddly for a devout ideologue, he doesn’t want to tell you that.
When Paul was speaking to the country at large in his presidential campaign announcement address, the word “cut” was never uttered, let alone “reduce” or “shrink.”
When he put numbers on his plans, the numbers were designed to sound big. For example, he asked rhetorically: “Currently some $3 trillion comes into the U.S. Treasury. Couldn’t the country just survive on $3 trillion?”
Amidst the usual “government is the problem, not the solution” rhetoric, he enthusiastically championed increased government spending on “new highways and bridges” (though his proposal would get the money from an one-shot infusion of cash stemming from a reduced tax rate on corporate profits now avoiding U.S. taxes offshore). Yet, he offered nothing about what government programs or agencies he would eliminate.
Speaking inside the conservative Fox News bubble, in a Tuesday night interview with Sean Hannity, Paul suddenly does utter the word “cut.” But even then, he dulls the word by making his budget-slashing program sound like minor trimming.
I don’t think we’ve ever had a politician run for the presidency who stood up and said, I’m going to cut one penny out of every dollar, a real cut. And there may be something you don’t get from government, but that one penny out of a dollar will cause us to balance the budget within five years.
It’s so simple! Just one penny out of every dollar – presto! – here’s your balanced budget.
But what Paul didn’t mention is that one percent cut wouldn’t incorporate inflation or population growth. As America gets bigger and the value of a dollar gets smaller, that one percent cut to the nation’s overall budget can become a 23 percent cut after five years.
In Paul’s specific budget proposal from 2014, he cuts spending by 20 percent by the fifth year. But since then he has proposed an additional $190 billion in military spending over two years, and he told Hannity he would offset that increase with more domestic spending cuts.
What gets cut? While he gave no details in his announcement speech, he was relatively more precise in the 2014 budget proposal:
Eliminates four departments: Departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Energy;
Block grants welfare programs, e.g. Medicaid, SCHIP, food stamps, and child nutrition
Social Security reform, including increasing the age for beneficiaries, means testing benefits, private accounts, and opt-out
As he said, “there may be something you don’t get from government.” Like food.
Yet, with Hannity he didn’t treat his budget proposal as set in stone (which will likely make it easier in the future to dodge questions about it). Instead he suggested that he didn’t much care what exactly gets cut or who in the end gets hurt:
We either do it 1 percent across the board, or maybe some programs, we cut 100 percent of. So the Department of Commerce, $30 billion, $40 billion – I consider most of it, if not all of it, to be corporate welfare. I would cut every bit of it. So I’d cut 100 percent of the Department of Commerce, maybe so I don’t have to cut the Social Security of someone who lives on Social Security. So there are ways of doing it not across the board. But if you can’t decide on it – kind of like the sequester, if you don’t make up your mind and you don’t put a budget forward, then you’ll get the sequester.
Maybe he doesn’t cut Social Security. Maybe he does. Whatever.
Actually, he does. Because as noted above, his 2014 budget eliminates the Commerce Department and cuts Social Security. It’s not an either-or situation for Paul.
Paul doesn’t want to tell you that. He doesn’t trust that you will support his radical libertarian vision if you know the details. However, he will learn soon enough that when you are on the presidential stage, you can’t hide the ball for very long.