On Thursday morning, I was very disappointed in Senator Rand Paul. A few hours later, I was impressed with what he’d done.
He made a very important point that needs to be hammered home as much and as hard as possible.
As someone who would like to see a smaller government sometime in my lifetime, I’ve long believed that the number one impediment to making this happen has been U.S. foreign policy, or more more accurately, conservative Republicans’ attitude about foreign policy.
Specifically, what they’re willing to spend on it.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to at least one study conducted by Brown University, will cost us somewhere between $4-6 trillion. That’s either one quarter or one third of our entire national debt, depending on how you look at the numbers.
B. Republicans will never convince Democrats to go for entitlement reform–the main culprit in our massive debt–if they absolutely refuse to look at Pentagon spending.
A serious fiscal conservative has to be willing to look at defense spending. A serious fiscal conservative has to be serious about reforming entitlements in order to reduce that crippling expense.
On Thursday, I first thought Rand Paul’s amendment to increase defense spending was a capitulation to Republican hawks who believe the Pentagon needs more money, despite the fact that they already waste billions every year.
Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton introduced an amendment that would make the defense budget $696 billion. Sen. Paul said–Fine, you can have your $696 billion. But how are you going to pay for it?
He then offered his own amendment that gave these hawks the exact dollar amount they wanted, but would be paid for by budget cuts elsewhere.
And they rejected it.
One Republican who might be running for president in 2016, Rubio, and one who has already announced, Ted Cruz, voted against Paul’s amendment.
Despite his rhetoric, Marco Rubio has never been a reliably small government Republican. Ted Cruz has. He’s the real tea party deal. Cruz and Paul were the only Republicans who voted against the overall budget on Thursday. Cruz has genuinely been for small government, except…
When it came to defense spending on Thursday. Paul gave Cruz and every other Republican a way to get the increased defense spending they believe is so essential but in a fiscally responsible way.
And again, they rejected it.
Said Paul, “I think there are a great deal of problems for people who want to argue that they are fiscal conservatives and yet would simply borrow hundreds of billions of dollars for defense… I think it is irresponsible and dangerous to the country to borrow so much money to add into defense.”
Only three Republicans voted for Paul’s budget amendment–Senators Mike Enzi, David Vitter and Mitch McConnell.
So think about it. On Thursday, Mitch McConnell actually cast a more fiscally conservative vote on defense spending than Ted Cruz.
Paul told The Daily Caller, “If you are willing to increase domestic spending, without offsetting it from cuts, you know that’s liberal.”
He’s right. On Thursday, on defense spending, Cruz cast a liberal vote.
Ted Cruz is no liberal. But when even a solid, no-nonsense, stand-your-ground conservative of Cruz’s caliber can be easily sucked into this notion that we can spend the next generation into oblivion by borrowing money we don’t have so long as it’s for “defense“…
Then what should fiscal conservatives expect from every other Republican? Exactly what the last Republican president gave us. And what every Republican running in 2016 who wishes to replicate a Bush-Cheney-style foreign policy will give us.
For conservatives who argue that when it comes to defense, we should be as loose as we want with taxpayer dollars, I can find you a liberal who will make the same excuse for spending recklessly on Obamacare. Because healthcare is just that important.
Healthcare is important. So is our national security.
Paul said to Politico of those who opposed his amendment Thursday, “I think it shows a lack of concern about the debt. I think it was a very, very important vote to see the contrast of the two different approaches.”
It certainly does. In 2016, this matters more than most Republicans realize.
With Thursday’s vote, if more conservatives realized it, if in 2016 if more Republicans understand it and vote accordingly, Rand Paul will have performed an important service toward the goal of fiscal responsibility and sanity.
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington and served as his new media director.