The Seriousness of Rand Paul's Budget

And the Problems With the Politics of Spending Cuts


Vox has been one of the few outlets in the flood of Rand Pauliana this week looking at what is traditionally an important part of a president's vision of governance: his spending plans, via the budget proposals he's been issuing for years.

Yes, presidents can merely make suggestions when it comes to budgets, but if a Republican president rides herd over a Republican House, these could be more than fantasy.

Here's Rand Paul's fiscal 2014 document.

Some of the details Vox quote are worth looking at:

Here are a few other specific agencies that are also on the chopping block in Paul's budgets, just to give you a sense of how granular he gets:

  • National Institutes of Health is cut by 20 percent ("much of the research and development undertaken by the NIH provides direct subsidies to the pharmaceutical industry").
  • Food and Drug Administration is cut by 20 percent ("new FDA powers granted by the recent Food Safety Modernization Act grant the government further intrusion into the nation's food supply").
  • NASA is cut by 25 percent ("with the presence of private industries involved in space exploration and space tourism, it is time for NASA to look at ways to reduce spending … since President Obama has determined to realign the goals of NASA away from human space exploration to science and 'global warming' research, there is also a need to realign the agency's funding").
  • US Geological Survey is cut by 20 percent ("though these are important activities, they can be given to state researchers at our colleges and universities").
  • Bureau of Reclamation is eliminated ("owning a majority block of energy and water resources is not the business of the federal government").
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs is eliminated ("swindled and mismanaged billions of dollars in Indian trust funds").
  • National Parks are cut by 30 percent ("returning these public lands back to the states and or the private sector would allow an increase in quality, safety and a reduction in government spending each year").
  • Indian Health Services is cut by 20 percent ("notoriously wrought with fraud").
  • Government Printing Office is eliminated ("every government office and agency should budget for their own printing costs").

Whereas you can get a fair amount of people to say they would like to see spending reined in and deficit spending and debt accumulation end, popular support for any specific cut is far more problematic, except for our old favorites fraud and abuse and, as annoying pedants remind us all the time, "foreign aid" (which is really, repeat after me, a very insignificant part of the total budget!)

Repeat that same mantra for every single goddamn specific program that one might want to cut. Most assuredly lots of people will.

I think the campaign itself wasn't leading with bold discussion of specific spending priorities for sensible strategic reasons. To some extent, the Paul campaign's pivots to libertarian-ish ideas are mostly in what I like to call the "nice" side of libertarianism—the parts that involve getting the government to stop doing bad things.

Like, say, spying on us, or messing up people's lives forever because they smoke pot, or like raw milk, or killing people by executive ukase, or taking a large chunk of our income in a complicated and confusing process, or, maybe, starting wars carelessly.

But when it comes to spending cuts every cent of the budget is someone's family's income, some service provided to someone, something that someone thinks is a good being provided to someone, for something. It has always been difficult to get people to agree they want that to happen in any specific case. The particulars of his vision of governmetn spending might be the hardest sell of all in Paul's run, and he's probably lucky not that much attention is being drawn to it.

See, for example, the headline Vox gave to a second article on Paul's spending priorities: "Rand Paul wants the government to do much, much less for the poor." 

That's tough to campaign on, especially if not rooted in consistently hardcore libertarian principles about the purpose of government and the richness of voluntarism.

As Vox notes, even for a Republican Paul is strangely serious about spending cuts:

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Paul's FY2014 budget would reduce spending to 16.4 percent of GDP by 2023. By contrast, Paul Ryan's budget would reduce spending to 19.1 percent of GDP, and Senate Democrats' budget would keep it at 21.9 percent. The gap between Paul's budget and Ryan's is nearly as big as the gap between Ryan's and Democrats'.