Americans need not agree with everything that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul says or does to recognize that he is one of the few members of Congress who is contributing anything more than hype and hypocrisy to the current budget debate.
Unlike House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and the other “deficit hawk” pretenders who back bank bailouts and every new war that a president proposes, Senator Paul keeps pushing his colleagues to get real about addressing the real bloat in the budget.
"Liberals will have to compromise and will have to cut domestic welfare," Paul said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union program, echoing the rhetoric of his fellow Republicans regarding the budget.
But Paul does not stop there. He says conservatives would have to compromise, too.
"The compromise is for conservatives to admit that the military budget is going to have to be cut,“ declared the son of Congressman Ron Paul, the Texas Republican who has long advocated for cuts in defense spending—and for an end to military adventurism abroad.
Paul’s point is that a real negotiation about how to cut debt and deficits has to address the most excessive spending. And that requires Republicans—and many Democrats—to abandon the premise that Department of Defense budgets are sacrosanct.
Rand Paul’s statement renews the advocacy for a realistic approach to defense spending that was advanced last fall in a bipartisan letter from members of Congress to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
That letter, penned by Ron Paul and Congressman Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, explained: "The Department of Defense currently takes up almost 56 percent of all discretionary federal spending, and accounts for nearly 65 percent of the increase in annual discretionary spending levels since 2001. Much of this increase, of course, is attributable to direct war costs, but nearly 37 percent of discretionary spending growth falls under the ‘base’ or ‘peacetime’ military budget. Applying the adage that it is necessary to ‘go where the money is’ requires that rigorous scrutiny be applied to military spending. We believe that such an analysis will show that substantial spending cuts can be made without threatening our national security, without cutting essential funds for fighting terrorism, and without shirking our obligations as a nation to our brave troops currently in the field, our veterans, and our military retirees."
"Much of these potential savings can be realized if we are willing to make an honest examination of the cost, benefit, and rationale of the extensive U.S. military commitment overseas, which in large part remains a legacy of policy decisions made in the immediate aftermath of World War II and during the Cold War," Frank and Paul added. "Years after the Soviet threat has disappeared, we continue to provide European and Asian nations with military protection through our nuclear umbrella and the troops stationed in our overseas military bases. Given the relative wealth of these countries, we should examine the extent of this burden that we continue to shoulder on our own dime."
As they advocated for substantial Pentagon cuts, the two congressmen noted the obvious challenge.
"For decades, the subject of military expenditures has been glaringly absent from public debate. Yet the Pentagon budget for 2010 is $693 billion—more than all other discretionary spending programs combined," Paul and Frank explained. "Even subtracting the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military spending still amounts to over 42 percent of total spending."
Ryan and other members of Congress who are trying to game the budget debate in order to deliver for the Wall Street speculators who fund their campaigns confirm their hypocrisy by avoiding a discussion about deep Pentagon cuts. But that does not change the fact that, as Frank and Paul wrote, "It is irrefutably clear to us that if we do not make substantial cuts in the projected levels of Pentagon spending, we will do substantial damage to our economy and dramatically reduce our quality of life."
That is the note of realism that Rand Paul is adding to the current debate.
Paul says "the people of Kentucky elected me to shake things up." He’s doing that, and in so doing he’s contributing a good deal more to that unsettlingly dishonest discourse than most of his colleagues—be the Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals.