Rand Paul on President Obama’s Budget Outlook: ‘Mind-Boggling’

BY Terence Burlij  February 15, 2011 at 2:38 PM EDT

To hear Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tell it, Democrats and Republicans are still missing the big picture when it comes to the country’s fiscal situation.

Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul by flickr.com/gageskidmore/“I think both sides haven’t woken up to the enormity of the problem,” Paul told the NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill in a one-on-one interview Tuesday on Capitol Hill. “I don’t think we’re on a path toward balancing the budget, we’re not on a path toward reducing the debt. We’re on a path toward still exploding the debt, on both sides, Democrat and Republican. So I think we are still in the awakening process to how severe the problem is,” Paul said.

Paul’s comments come a day after President Obama rolled out his $3.7 trillion budget for next year. It projects a $1.65 trillion deficit for this year and drops to $1.1 trillion next year. Paul said the country simply can’t sustain that much red ink. “He’s going to spend $46 trillion over 10 years — just the mind-boggling nature of that number. But, it’s also going to double the amount of debt.”

The freshman senator has put forward an ambitious proposal of his own that would slash the budget by $500 billion just this year alone. Among his targets: eliminating the departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development, scaling back the Department of Education except for the Pell Grant program, and halving funding for the Department of Commerce.

But, Paul, a co-founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, says even those cuts don’t go far enough. “It’s only a third of one year’s problem. That’s how big and how bad things are, that my proposal, which many people think is too dramatic, is only a third of one year’s problem.”

Paul contends that to any legitimate effort at getting the country’s fiscal house in order will mean tackling entitlement programs. The Kentuckian said he would offer a plan in the next week or two to address Social Security. It will likely include a provision to gradually raise the retirement age to 70 — over a 30-year period. Only people who are now 55 years old or younger would be impacted, Paul said.

Asked whether his colleagues have urged him to slow down, Paul admitted he’s been subjected to some “gentle ribbing,” but that most respect “the enthusiasm and the zeal” he has for trying to solve the country’s problems.

Paul said he has no qualms about challenging his fellow Republicans when it comes to spending issues. “I provoke them by saying, ‘Yeah, you’re for a balanced budget amendment, but what are you going to cut?’” Paul says, adding that “Some of them don’t want to say, ‘We’re going to cut here, here, here, because it’ll make us unpopular.’ And I say, well, the people want to know how you’ll do it. And you’ll lose your credibility with the media and everyone else if you don’t say, I’ll cut some spending.”

Be sure to tune in to Tuesday’s NewsHour broadcast to see Gwen’s full conversation with Senator Paul.