Rand Paul’s cynical budget

Dana Milbank
Opinion writer May 16, 2012

“Call me cynical,but I wasn’t sure his views on marriage could get any gayer,” Sen. Rand Paul said of President Obama.

Okay, let’s call Rand Paul cynical — but not because of his playground taunt of the president a few days ago at a gathering of religious conservatives in Iowa. Let’s call him cynical because of the monstrous proposal the Kentucky Republican offered on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

The tea party darling’s plan would, among other things, cut the average Social Security recipient’s benefits by nearly 40 percent, reduce defense spending by nearly $100
billion below a level the Pentagon calls “devastating,” and end the current Medicare program in two years — even for current recipients, according to the Senate Budget Committee staff. It would eliminate the education, energy, housing and commerce departments, decimate homeland security, eviscerate programs for the poor, and give the wealthy a bonanza by reducing tax rates to 17 percent and eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends.

It is, all in all, quite a nasty piece of work, and even an intervention by the Aqua Buddha wouldn’t get it through the Senate. It failed, 83 to 16. Yet the very fact that such a proposal would be seriously debated on the chamber floor shows that a troubling number of lawmakers have gone off the deep end.

Paul is evidently not eager to defend the plan. He showed up at a news conference on the budget Wednesday afternoon but then slipped out of the room before the questions began. But his remarks, two minutes long, may have set a Senate speed record for the rate of dishonest statements per second.

“You know, much has been said about the need for compromise,” Paul told reporters, adding: “People say ‘compromise, compromise, be a moderate.’ Well, how do we do that if the other side has no plan and won’t talk to us?”

He asserted that his budget would end deficits in five years, but that “the president has a budget that never balances. You’ve got infinity on one side and five years on the other.” The son and protege of Ron Paul further claimed that his Medicare plan “basically was taken from Senator Kerry.”

In fact, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) supported no such proposal for Medicare. Paul’s claim that Obama’s budget “never balances” is based on the White House’s use of a standard 10-year horizon for its budget. By the same 10-year standard, the Paul Ryan-authored House Republican budget “never balances” either. Finally, Paul’s claim that he can’t compromise because the other side has no plan ignores the Budget Control Act reached last year — a bipartisan compromise. Paul would add $2.2 trillion in cuts to that deal.

Paul justifiably scolds Senate Democrats for not producing a budget, and he is on solid ground when he says Obama’s budget doesn’t go far enough to restore fiscal balance. But it’s a bit nervy to accuse the other side of refusing to compromise when he is the one who is rejecting compromise.

Republicans were able to bring several budgets to a vote Wednesday (they mockingly offered a version of Obama’s budget), and all went down. But Democrats took particular delight in Paul’s because it is easily the most extreme. “Senator Paul’s plan is truly a radical plan,” charged Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), moving on to words such as “wow” and “breathtaking.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) displayed a poster of four race cars competing in the “Republican Race to End Medicare.” Paul’s car was in the lead. “The most shocking thing about all of this is that the radical Ryan budget seems to be the least extreme of the Republican budgets,” accused Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), singling out the Paul plan.

Paul’s defense of his proposal meandered into warnings about the “destruction of our currency,” but his primary argument was that he was at least offering a budget, and the Democrats weren’t. “How do we compromise if the other side won’t come up with a proposal?” he asked.

Well, Senator, you could endorse the Bowles-Simpson compromise, which you labeled “too little, too late” and unserious. Or you could respect the terms of the budget deal passed last year, which you also opposed. But if you reject compromise and then fault the other side for not coming to the table, people just might call you cynical.

danamilbank@washpost.com

For previous Washington Sketch columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milbank.

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