The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Senate defeats Rand Paul’s balanced-budget plan as he accuses GOP of ‘unholy alliance’ with Democrats on spending

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Senate resoundingly rejected a balanced-budget plan Thursday offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The result was not a surprise. Not even Paul had expected the legislation to pass.

Instead, he said, his aim was to expose what he termed “hypocrisy” on the part of GOP colleagues he accused of forming an “unholy alliance” with Democrats to raise spending and balloon the debt.

“This vote is a litmus test for conservatives,” Paul argued on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, contending that if fellow Republicans didn’t support his resolution, “we are simply the same as the Democrats. We don’t care about the debt.”

But the legislation failed to advance on a vote of 21-76. Similar plans Paul has offered in the past have also failed by wide margins.

With the federal budget deficit fast approaching $1 trillion a year, Paul claims his plan would balance the budget in five years by cutting 1 percent of spending annually — the so-called penny plan.

He argues he could do so without touching Social Security and by reducing discretionary spending  a mere $13 billion a year. But other analyses, including by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, have disputed Paul’s assumptions and concluded that his approach would actually result in much larger cuts that would threaten entitlements like Medicare and tear into agencies from the Pentagon and CIA to the National Institutes of Health.

In any case, Paul’s arguments failed to persuade his colleagues. Whether he succeeded in exposing fellow Republicans as hypocrites was uncertain, especially since Paul himself is arguably guilty of exacerbating the $21 trillion debt himself given that he voted for the $1.5 trillion unpaid-for tax law. (He argues it will help produce 4 percent GDP growth, a very rosy prediction, and more than pay for itself.)

Where Paul succeeded, as he frequently does, was in irritating fellow Republican lawmakers.

Arguing against the plan on the Senate floor, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said it would threaten the military just months after Congress succeeded in passing a significant increase in military spending that many Republicans viewed as crucial — even though it required agreeing to Democrats’ demands for a big boost in domestic spending, as well.

“This budget throws our military in a ditch, and I am tired of doing that,” Graham said. “It is a joke. Now is not the time to be funny. Now is the time to be serious.”

Paul’s budget did get more support from Republicans than the last time he offered a similar plan, in January 2017, when there were just 14 “yes” votes, compared with the 21 on Thursday. This time the vote occurred with Republicans weathering a conservative backlash over the $1.3 trillion spending bill President Trump signed reluctantly in March.