If Rand Paul's budget proposal was, as he said, a litmus test for conservatives, most of them failed it.
The Senate on Thursday resoundingly rejected the Kentucky Republican's plan to balance the federal budget by 2023, voting 76 to 21 against a bill that would have required a $400 billion cut in federal spending next year, followed by 1 percent spending increases for the rest of the next decade. Republican hawks took the floor to blast Paul for trying to undermine the American military, even though his proposal would have let Congress decide how much to cut from each department, including the Pentagon.
"Let me tell you what that means to the military," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) before voting against the bill. "Devastation. This budget throws our military in the ditch."
Hardly. Even if the entire $400 billion cut Paul proposed were applied to the Pentagon, America would still spend far more on the military than any other nation. But even the suggestion that defense spending could be cut is enough to scare most Republicans away from facing fiscal reality. As Paul pointed out on Thursday, the national debt and $1 trillion deficits are bigger threats to America's long-term national security than a reduction in funding for the Pentagon. "There is waste from top to bottom in every department of the government, including the military," Paul said, noting that one Pentagon agency managed to misplace $800 million, according to a recent audit.
But Paul's proposal never really had a chance of passing, coming as it did just months after Congress approved enormous spending hikes that busted Obama-era caps once championed by Republicans as necessary for fiscal restraint. Combined with last year's tax reforms, the spending bill will produce annual deficits of at least $1 trillion for the rest of the Trump presidency, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says. If Congress does not allow individual tax rate reductions to expire as planned in the middle of the next decade, they will add another $722 billion to budget deficits through 2028. By that year, even if the tax cuts expire, the CBO projects that the national debt will equal the nation's overall economic output, with our debt-to-GDP ratio reaching levels "far greater than the debt in any year since just after World War II."
Relative to current baseline projections, Paul's proposal called for a $404 billion spending cut in fiscal year 2019, which begins on October 1. During the next 10 years, Paul's plan would have spent about $13.3 trillion less than the current CBO projections, although federal spending still would have increased by more than 14 percent over the decade. Paul's plan would have balanced the budget by 2023, as long as revenue met current CBO projections. By 2028, his proposal envisioned a $700 billion surplus instead of the $1.5 trillion deficit currently projected by the CBO.
"When the Republican Party is out of power, they are a conservative party," Paul said just before the vote. "The problem is that when the Republican Party is in power, there is no conservative party." Thursday proved, once again, how correct that assessment is.