U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul cited several ideas for cutting federal spending at a news conference Tuesday, but he said it would be impossible for him to spell out a specific proposal to balance the federal budget before Nov. 2.
Paul, a Republican, has made the federal debt a centerpiece of his campaign, criticizing his party and Democrats for the sea of red ink.
In an interview on WHAS radio last month, Paul said that if elected, he would introduce a plan to balance the budget in one year, as well as multi-year plans.
"But I will stay on the floor until I've introduced five different proposals" to balance the budget in one to five years, Paul said. "If you're not willing to balance it in five years, you're not a serious person."
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Asked on Tuesday if he would release specifics on the various proposals before the election, Paul said a candidate couldn't write a federal budget, which covers thousands of pages and trillions in spending.
"It's impossible for a candidate to write a budget," he said.
Paul noted that the work of thousands of people goes into crafting the federal budget. He is continuing to work in his medical practice while campaigning, so time is at a premium, Paul said.
The projected deficit in the current budget is more than $1 trillion, so balancing it in one year would require dramatic cuts that many observers argue are unrealistic.
Paul has called for examining every program in the massive budget to see if it should be eliminated, downsized or left alone. But on Monday, he said it would be difficult to give specific numbers or percentages.
Paul's opponent, Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, has criticized Paul for not releasing more detail on his plan to balance the budget.
"Rand Paul can't show his secret budget scheme because it does not exist," said John Collins, Conway's spokesman, on Tuesday.
But Paul said the election is about what kind of senator people want — one who believes the system is broken, spending must be cut and that lawmakers should be forced to balance the budget by law, or "someone who might."
Paul said he is unique in calling for a review of both social-welfare spending and military spending in order to balance the budget, unlike Republicans and Democrats who traditionally favor cuts in only one of those pots.
As for specifics on balancing the budget, Paul mentioned $300 billion in leftover funds from the federal stimulus package and the bank bailout — both of which he has criticized.
Paul also cited the potential to save $47 billion annually by bringing government salaries in line with private-sector salaries, and he mentioned freezing federal hiring and perhaps cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent.
Paul said there may be a need to have Medicare and Medicaid participants pay a greater share of the costs of the programs, noting that giving something away leads to over-use.
"Government programs need to have a price," Paul said.
He also said "it's inevitable" that the eligibility for government programs for retirees will have to be changed as the country heads toward a time when there will be fewer workers to support them.
Conway has advocated a deficit-reduction plan he says would save $430 billion over 10 years without raising taxes. It includes letting Medicare negotiate for bulk discounts on prescription drugs, closing tax loopholes on foreign-earned interest and ending offshore tax shelters.
Paul's comments on the budget came during a news conference at Thiel Audio Products in Lexington, a small company that makes premium speakers.
Paul and Kathy Gornik, president of the company, talked about their opposition to the federal health-care overhaul Congress approved this year, which critics call Obamacare.
Among other things, the law will bar insurance companies from refusing to cover people because of pre-existing medical conditions, and require people to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
Gornik said she is concerned that the law will be so expensive it will lead to tax increases.
The law also creates uncertainty for businesses, making them reluctant to invest or hire workers, Gornik said.
Paul said the law makes it "inevitable" that insurance premiums will go up.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that for people who get insurance through employers the average change in premiums by 2016 would range from an increase of 1 percent to a drop of 3 percent, relative to current law. Such employment-based insurance would account for 83 percent of the market, the CBO said.
However, Paul noted that cost estimates on past government programs, such as the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, have been way off.
The health care reform promises to be a continuing theme in the race because it is a clear difference in the candidates. Conway has said the law could have been better, but he supported it.
The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee began airing a TV ad in the state Tuesday that blasts Conway for supporting the health care bill and refusing to join a group of other state attorneys general who have challenged the law in court.