Rand Paul's plan to slash federal spending gets criticism, praise

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul

FRANKFORT — Critics lashed out Wednesday at a proposal by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to slash numerous federal programs, including food stamps, to save $500 billion in a single year. But Paul's supporters praised him for sticking to his campaign promise to attempt to reduce the size of the federal government.

"Some of the elements of the plan, which would remove the safety net that poor and vulnerable people need, we would find morally objectionable," said the Rev. Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.

But Mica Sims, a Lexington Tea Party organizer, said she was "very proud" of Paul.

"He's doing exactly what he said in last year's campaign that he would do," she said.

Paul introduced a 12-page bill in the Senate on Tuesday that would slash $42 billion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food stamp program — a 30 percent reduction from the current funding level.

It would eliminate the Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development and most of the Department of Education. It also would eliminate international aid and numerous agricultural programs, and subsidies to Amtrak, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Paul said the proposal, which also would cut $16 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, would roll back federal spending to 2008 levels and eliminate what he considers the most wasteful programs.

The Kentucky Republican said he hopes his proposal, which he called the Cut Federal Spending Act of 2011, will spark a dialogue within the Senate about how to repair the nation's economy.

"I am proud to introduce my own solution to the mounting debt our spendthrift, oversized government has accrued," Paul said in a statement. "By rolling back to 2008 levels and eliminating the most wasteful programs, we can still keep 85 percent of our government funding in place."

On Fox News Wednesday, Paul said he promised the Tea Party to keep his bills "simple and readable."

He said his reduction plan is "five times larger than anybody else's proposal but still attacks only one-third of the federal deficit."

Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon elected in November with support from Tea Party activists, centered his campaign largely on fiscal issues. He promised to press for a constitutional amendment that would require the federal budget to be balanced each year. He also said he would present a proposal early in his term to balance the budget in one to five years.

"By removing programs that are beyond the constitutional role of the federal government, such as education and housing, we are cutting nearly 40 percent of our projected deficit and removing the big-government bureaucrats who stand in the way of efficiency in our federal government," he said.

But Matt Erwin, spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party, said Paul's proposal goes too far.

"Rand Paul is fulfilling his campaign promise to gut funding for our children's education and the services which Kentuckians rely on," Erwin said. "Nothing about a politician introducing legislation that would harm his constituents is commendable."

Sharron Oxendine, president of the Kentucky Education Association, said Paul's bill "appears to me that he doesn't have much interest in education and the children of Kentucky."

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he disagreed with Paul's proposal to do away with most of the Department of Education.

"I'd love to have that conversation with the senator," Duncan said during a news conference.

Duncan said the department's role should not be to pay for local public schools but to "spur innovation."

President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address on Tuesday the Department of Education would provide incentives to hire 100,000 teachers in math, science and technology fields.

Those incentives will come in the form of troops-to-teachers programs, Pell grants and debt forgiveness for professionals to switch careers to become teachers, especially in rural areas, Duncan said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Paul's spending reduction plan underscores the serious of the nation's mounting debt.

"I'm glad Senator Paul and many of our colleagues are taking the opportunity to put forward their ideas on how best we can help provide a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren," McConnell said.

"There is widespread interest in the Republican conference for spending cuts that pay more than lip service to reducing the debt, and I look forward to working with Senator Paul and anyone else who is interested in tackling this crisis head-on."

On Wednesday, Paul introduced legislation seeking a full audit of the Federal Reserve, the central banking system of the United States.

He said it would provide answers to the American people about how their money is being spent in Washington.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader