By Tad DeHaven
Freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has raised the bar in Washington by releasing a bill that would make substantial, specific, and immediate cuts in federal spending. While policymakers on both sides of the aisle have largely paid lip service to stopping Washington’s record run of fiscal profligacy, Paul’s proposal makes good on his campaign promise to seriously tackle the federal government’s bloated budget.
Paul’s bill would target $500 billion in cuts for fiscal 2011 alone. While audacious by Washington standards, cutting federal spending by that amount would still leave us with a projected $1 trillion deficit this year. Nonetheless, the federal government’s scope would be dramatically curtailed, which would pay dividends in coming years as the economy is unshackled from numerous failed federal interventions.
A description of Paul’s proposed cuts can be viewed here, but some of the bolder ideas merit a comment or two.
First, Paul would eliminate most Department of Education spending, with the exception of higher education subsidies. He correctly notes that the federal government’s increased involvement in education has been “detrimental” and that “the mere existence of the Department of Education is an overreach of power by the federal government.”
Second, the Department of Energy, which is becoming a chief source of corporate welfare, would be zeroed out. Paul would eliminate subsidies for all energy industries — from fossil fuels to so-called “green” energies. He notes that the government’s interference in energy development should be ended and the free market allowed to “start taking the reins.”
Third, the Department of Housing and Urban Development — one of most visible examples of government failure — would be eliminated. Among the HUD programs that Paul singles out, it is his criticism of housing vouchers that deserves the most applause as they remain popular in some Republican and conservative quarters.
Paul deserves credit for proposing cuts at the Department of Defense, although the savings would be relatively small. However, his proposal would cut the Department of Homeland Security almost in half, and would zero out billions of dollars in foreign aid. The latter is well-timed given the situation in Egypt, a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid dollars.
Finally, Paul would chop a quarter of the Department of Health and Human Service’s budget, although he doesn’t take on Medicare or Medicaid. He is reportedly at work on separate legislation that would address Medicare and Social Security. Because Paul’s proposal is focused on immediate cuts, his decision to tackle the big mandatory spending programs separately shouldn’t be viewed as a cop out.
Thus far, the spending cut bar in Washington has been set pretty low. Policymakers from both parties and varying ideological backgrounds have been timid in spelling out precisely what they would cut. By getting specific, Paul has raised the bar, which will hopefully put pressure on others — in particular, the congressional Republican leadership — to move beyond a vague, myopic fixation on nondefense discretionary spending.