U.S. Sen. Rand Paul on Friday said he plans to unveil his own version of the federal budget next week that would cut $500 billion a year by eliminating or consolidating the U.S. departments of Education and Energy and reducing many other agencies to 2008 spending levels.
"Pretty much everything is in it," said Paul, R-Ky. On the Education Department, for example, Paul said he would close parts of it and return many of its responsibilities to local school districts. Some popular programs, such as federal aid for college tuition, would transfer to other federal agencies, he said.
Paul's comments came after he addressed Kentuckians for Better Transportation in Lexington in what was billed as his first public speech since taking office this month.
During his speech and afterward, talking to reporters, Paul said the federal government needs to make deep spending cuts in nearly every area, including Social Security and Medicare. Paul said Social Security needs to raise its eligibility age and Medicare should cost more for higher-income Americans, though he did not say those would be part of his proposal next week.
"Nobody wants to deal with this," Paul said. "But if you don't approach it, then the alternative is maybe there's no Social Security or maybe there's no Medicare because we've destroyed the value of the dollar."
In his 2010 campaign, Paul pledged to offer a balanced-budget proposal if elected. Next week's plan — which is not expected to get a hearing in the Democratic-controlled Senate — would be one step toward that goal, although this year's budget deficit is on pace to exceed $1 trillion.
Paul told his audience Friday that Congress refuses to live within its means. His predecessor, U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., last year unsuccessfully opposed an extension of jobless benefits, calling on the Senate to identify where money for the benefits would come from, Paul said.
"Why not make unemployment benefits go forever if it's a good thing? There has to be a limit," Paul said. "Now we're up to 99 weeks (of jobless benefits) and we can't afford to do it. We have got to cut spending somewhere."
Paul said he will oppose any tax increases and plans to sponsor a Regulatory Freedom Act that will target for elimination "the worst 100 regulations that aren't protecting anyone and are simply driving up business costs." Paul said he is talking to industry leaders to get their suggestions on regulations that should be included.
On a lighter note, Paul joked that he worked long hours for many years as a Bowling Green eye surgeon and then on the campaign trail. Now that he's a federal employee, he said, he has a windfall of free time.
"I've had to struggle with it," Paul said. "I went to Washington, and they swore us in. It took us about an hour. And then they said, 'Go home, you're off for two weeks now.' I've been on vacation for two weeks."
Paul said he asked Senate ethics officials for permission to continue his private medical practice while he's in public office. The officials said he could treat patients only if he did not charge for his services, he said.
"That sort of encapsulates the idea of Washington. They don't understand how you run a business," Paul said. "Malpractice insurance costs money, I have two or three employees who work for me who get a salary, I have an electric bill."