HARTFORD — During his first town-hall meeting in Kentucky since he was elected in November, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul ran into a crowd Tuesday frustrated and angered by the sour economy.
He said the sentiments were not unlike those he was seeing throughout the state.
Paul, a Bowling Green Republican who was swept into office with support of the Tea Party movement, was pounded with questions that ranged from excessive regulations to federal health care changes.
The setting was Hartford City Hall in the Ohio County seat in Western Kentucky that is primarily Democratic in voter registration. There has been a sign on the city's outskirts since the 1950s that declares it "Home of 2,000 Happy People and a Few Soreheads."
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About 100 people jammed into the government building that was once a movie theater.
Before fielding about 15 questions during the hourlong session, Paul criticized "a government now full of busybodies" that he says overregulate.
The nation's No. 1 problem, said Paul, is its debt.
He advocated a balanced budget amendment and cutting one penny from every federal dollar spent for six years and then implementing a spending freeze for two years.
Such a move, said Paul, would mean "we won't have money for everything," but changes are in order to avoid a larger debt crisis.
Concerning federal entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid, Paul said, Americans are living longer, and there are fewer younger people to pay into the system. But Paul said it was "absolutely untrue" that Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicaid. He has been pushing for higher retirement ages for future recipients.
Paul also said he was willing to compromise. He said he would have been glad to vote for some recent Democratic proposals to lift the nation's debt ceiling if President Barack Obama and Congress would have supported a balanced budget.
A tough question from the audience came from Krystal Cox, 31, of Jefferson County, who has family in Ohio County.
She said she had surgery in May for kidney cancer and finally would get insurance in 2014 under the federal health care changes that critics have dubbed "Obamacare."
"Why should it be repealed?" she asked Paul, who had said it is too costly.
Paul said pre-existing health conditions and insurance portability have been problems that could be retained in health care changes.
But he said the plan backed by Obama "went too far" by creating a new entitlement program when there was not enough money to take care of programs already in effect.
Paul also said he thought every person on Medicare should be placed on the health care plan members of Congress enjoy.
That would mean similar out-of-pocket expenses for the patients but less cost for taxpayers.
There was much concern expressed by the audience about turmoil in the stock market.
Paul said it reflected "a vote of no confidence over public policy in Washington."
He said it specifically was a vote of no confidence against Obama and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, whom Paul wants to step down from office.
Steve Wiggins, a Daviess County businessman, asked Paul what citizens can do to help the economy. Wiggins said he was a 50-year-old father who was concerned about his children's future.
Paul first answered, "Send reinforcements."
He then said, "Ultimately you are going to need to have a new leader for the country."
Asked after the meeting about the mood of the crowd, Paul said, "I found it a very friendly crowd. These are good conservative folks. I just live down the road.
"But they are frustrated. We are not doing enough to reform our fiscal ways."
Earlier in the day, Paul spoke with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, in a joint appearance before the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs of Owensboro.