Rand Paul gives clues but not specifics about how to balance the budget

09/15/2010 06:16 PM

LEXINGTON — While Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul has built his campaign on the urgent need to cut spending and balance the federal budget, he has offered few details about how he’d suggest accomplishing that in five years.

But this week he cited several broad approaches — government hiring freezes and a 10% reduction of the federal workforce. He said Congress should eliminate unused funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, as well as the Troubled Asset Relief Program — nicknamed the bank bailout bill. And he reitterated some of the other proposals he’d previously mentioned, such as eliminating the U.S. Department of Education.

But perhaps even more telling, Paul revealed names of those who would influence his approach to the federal budget. At a news conference in Lexington Tuesday, Paul mentioned Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation and Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute and author of the book Downsizing the Federal Government.  Both the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute are Washington-based free-market think tanks.

Paul said providing specifics before the Nov. 2 election of what it would take to balance the budget in a year or five would be “difficult.”But the specifics aren’t as important as having a rule that requires the federal budget to be balanced each year, he said.

A look at Reidl’s writings offers some insight into the kind of counsel he’d offer Paul. In a article titled “Five Ways to Tackle Spending and Deficits,” Riedl advocates for “empowering states” by leaving “highway, education, justice and economic development” programs to be dealt with on the state level. Paul consistently highlighted his philosophy of a limited federal government, citing the elimination of the Education Department as an example.

Reforming social programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security are also on Reidl’s list to reduce the federal deficit.

An article that lists no author on the Heritage Foundation website, calls for raising the retirement age for Social Security and suggested that Medicare be turned into a “defined-contribution” system and that Medicaid be turned into a private insurance holding.

Paul has said he believes the retirement age for Social Security should be raised gradually from 65. But of Medicare and Medicaid, Paul has said only that all “social domestic welfare” programs will be looked at. Last spring Paul, a Bowling Green eye doctor, said one part of Medicare he didn’t want to see reduced was reimbursements for physicians.

Overall, cutting whole sections of programs or making large reforms in order to balance the federal budget could have far-reaching effects, said Glenn Blomquist, a professor of economics at the University of Kentucky.

“There would be so many changes in order to do that,” Blomquist said. “Folks will talk about balancing the budget, but the ramifications of doing so are amazing.”

Blomquist said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make enough efficiencies or reduce benefits to the point where programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are no longer a placing the federal budget in the red within five years.

“Probably not in 10 years. That would be a huge change (to the programs),” Blomquist said.

But there are ways to improve how efficiently the programs are run, especially Medicaid, Blomquist said. That would reduce the cost of the program.

To revamp programs like Social Security or Medicare, Congress would need to come to a “consensus,” which the current political system doesn’t reward, Blomquist said.

“These are not really new ideas of balancing the budget,” Blomquist said. “… Also we haven’t as a society been ready to change what we do.”

Paul told reporters that he has gone farther than any other candidate when it comes to a balanced budget proposal, but acknowledged that current Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the top-ranking Republican on the U.S. House budget committee, has offered a detailed budget-cutting plan. But Paul said Ryan’s approach might not go far enough because it won’t balance the federal budget for 63 years.

Paul challenged the media to find anyone outside of Congressional leadership or Ryan who has written a budget plan, including his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway.

-Reporting and videos produced by Kenny Colston

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