During a Lexington luncheon Thursday, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul discussed the possibility of cutting government benefits for unwed mothers who have multiple children, though the potential Republican candidate for president in 2016 didn't directly endorse such a policy.
During a question-and-answer period following his remarks at a Commerce Lexington luncheon, Paul responded to a question about workforce development by including a warning about unwed young mothers doomed to poverty.
Although he said the job of preventing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies should be left to communities and families, Paul left open the possibility of a role for government.
"Maybe we have to say 'enough's enough, you shouldn't be having kids after a certain amount,'" Paul told the business group at one point.
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An aide to Paul declined to comment Thursday night when asked to clarify the senator's statements about unwed mothers.
Paul told the audience that being "married with kids versus unmarried with kids is the difference between living in poverty and not."
"We should sell that message," Paul said. "Not in a mean way to tell people who already have made a bad decision, but if you've had one child and you're not married, you shouldn't have another one."
Speaking about high school students, Paul warned that "if you have children before you are married, the poverty rate is just astronomical."
"We need to be telling kids 'don't have kids until you're married,'" Paul said. "It's your best chance to get in the middle class is not to have kids. There's all kinds of ways, and we can debate ... but there are all kinds of ways to stop having kids."
He continued: "You know, but we have to teach our kids that. But some of that's sort of some tough love too. Maybe we have to say 'enough's enough, you shouldn't be having kids after a certain amount.' I don't know how you do all that because then it's tough to tell a woman with four kids that she's got a fifth kid we're not going to give her any more money. But we have to figure out how to get that message through because that is part of the answer. Some of that's not coming from government. It needs to come from ministers and people in the community and parents and grandparents to convince our kids to do something different."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30.9 percent of families led by a single mom were living in poverty in 2012, compared to 6.3 percent of families led by a married couple and 16.4 percent of families led by a single father.
Paul has repeatedly delighted his critics with controversial remarks, even enduring a plagiarism scandal last fall that had all but been forgotten as Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has become mired in a scandal of his own.
Christie's troubles — an alleged political payback scheme to close access lanes to a busy bridge and cause gridlock — appeared to provide a window for Paul to rebound from the plagiarism accusations and perhaps bypass the New Jersey governor as the early GOP favorite for president in 2016.
Paul has said he is considering a run for president but won't make any decisions until after this year's midterm elections.
A columnist for The Atlantic magazine this week declared Paul the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, but Kentucky's junior senator said after Thursday's luncheon that being discussed as the frontrunner two years before the first votes are cast "sounds unlucky."
Paul, who often speaks without notes, has a history of making comments that leave Democrats rolling their eyes, laughing or outraged. It was a discussion of eugenics at Liberty University that started the plagiarism storm, which he followed with a joke on Meet the Press about challenging his critics to a duel.
Still, Paul has won over many supporters by relentlessly battling the Obama administration over Fourth Amendment and privacy issues, beginning with a widely praised 13-hour filibuster of CIA Director John Brennan's nomination over the possibility of using drone aircraft in the U.S.
And despite some tensions over his endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's re-election, Paul still enjoys the support of a conservative, Libertarian-minded base, many of whom started as fans of Paul's father, former presidential candidate and Texas congressman Ron Paul, and were won over by the younger Paul's Senate campaign in 2010.