Newly crowned Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) brought his “message from the tea party” from Kentucky to his biggest national interview since handily winning the election over Democrat Jack Conway last Tuesday. In a nutshell, Paul stuck to his tea party guns in the brief sitdown on ABC’s This Week. The movement’s moment has arrived, Paul told host Christiane Amanpour. Now it’s time to start cutting. Cutting everything.
“Republicans traditionally say, ‘Oh, we’ll cut domestic spending, but we won’t touch the military,’” Paul explained. “The liberals — the ones who are good — will say, ‘Oh, we’ll cut the military, but we won’t cut domestic spending.’”
As for Paul and his tea party friends, “Bottom line is, you have to look at everything across the board.”
Amanpour pressed Paul for specific cuts, but for the most part Paul preferred to talk in the same sweeping generalizations about cuts that helped win him the election and helped the tea party win the hearts of so many conservatives this year.
“We don’t need bigger government,” Paul said. “We need to shrink the size of government.”
From defense to entitlements, Paul refused to take any possible cut off the table:
If you say, “Well, what are all the specifics?” There are books written on all the specifics. There’s a book by Christopher Edwards, downsizing government, goes through every program. That’s what it will take. It’s a very detailed analysis.
But you need to ask of every program, when we take no program off the table, can it be downsized? Can it be privatized? Can it be made smaller?
Paul did offer some small solutions — he suggested cutting federal worker’s wages and freezing hiring, for example — but seemed more interested in talking about the scope of his cutting plans rather than the exact nature of them.
On entitlements, Paul said (as he did repeatedly on the campaign trail) that any changes made to the Social Security or Medicare system would need to be made for future beneficiaries 55 years of age or younger.
“You may have to,” Paul said when Amanpour asked him about raising the age of eligibility for Social Security.
Specific cuts weren’t the only things Paul was vague about in the interview. He declined, for example to stake out a firm position on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan (“I don’t think really Congress can decide troop levels. In fact, I think if Congress told [the president] to bring all of them home on a certain time, I think he can do what he wants constitutionally”) or Obama’s anti-nuclear proliferation treaty (“I think we need to have more discussion on it, but it doesn’t sound like that I’m probably going to be in favor of that.”)
There were a couple things Paul was clear about: Kentucky’s newest U.S. Senator will be putting national government spending ahead of federal dollars for his home state.
“No more earmarks,” he said.
And he said he won’t vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, though he dismissed Amanpour’s suggestion that his vote might force the country into default on its debts. At least some of his fellow Republicans, Paul suggested, don’t share his cut everything zeal.
“You know, I think it’s unlikely,” Paul said when Amanpour asked if he would keep the debt ceiling from being raised. “There are people who vote against the debt ceiling every time to send a message that adding more debt is wrong. I think we shouldn’t add more debt. I think we should immediately start cutting spending.”