Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has already made it abundantly clear that he expects Republicans to demand concessions in return for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, which will have to be done sometime in the coming months. Like a slew of equally irresponsible Republicans, Paul has issued demands that he wants fulfilled in return for his vote to increase the debt limit, essentially holding the credit-worthiness of the United States hostage to his brand of radical fiscal conservatism.
Last night, Paul was asked about his stance on the debt ceiling by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, where he replied that the only way he will vote to increase the debt limit is if Congress adopts “an ironclad rule that we will balance the budget from here on after”:
HANNITY: So it will take what to get your vote to raise the debt ceiling?
PAUL: I think an ironclad rule that we will balance the budget from here on after, and that’s what it’s going to take. Not a rule that they can break. You know, they passed pay-as-you-go, they broke it 700 times in the late nineties and the early part of this century. It has to be a very strict rule, so we have to have different rules that they are forced to obey.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) — who has some radical ideas about the federal budget himself — has said that failure to raise the debt ceiling is “unworkable.” “Does it have to be raised? Yes, you can’t not raise the debt ceiling,” Ryan said. Leaving aside the myriad disastrous consequences that would result if the U.S. failed to raise the debt ceiling — and the fact that the current Congress can’t tie the hands of a future Congress, as Paul seems to imagine they can — Paul’s demand shows that he’s completely out-of-touch with what the federal budget actually looks like.
After all, to balance the budget “from here on after” once the debt ceiling is raised necessarily implies balancing the budget this year. And to do so without raising any additional revenue would entail a 44 percent cut in literally everything the government does: everything from Social Security, Medicare, and defense spending to highway funds, the FBI and the Coast Guard. Removing Social Security and defense from the equation then requires an 89 percent cut in everything else.
Responsible budgeting means finding a balance between the important and popular functions of government and the revenue necessary to fund them. Any budget plan that actually succeeds in reducing the deficit without pummeling the middle- and lower-class has to include tax increases and must be phased in over time, as the economy gets back to full strength. But Paul would risk the United States defaulting on its debt obligations to implement his irresponsible slash-and-burn vision of the budget.