Rand Paul Changes His Tune On Defense Spending

CREDIT: AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

In his first year in the Senate, Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a budget that called for a $164 billion cut to defense spending by 2016. “Military funding has often far outpaced not only our most likely enemies, but has often outpaced the entire world’s military spending combined,” he wrote at the time as he outlined his plan for a “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

Just four years later, as he prepares to mount a presidential campaign in early April, Paul is changing his tune. Late Wednesday, he introduced a budget amendment which would increase the defense budget by 16 percent, or $190 billion, over the next two years, TIME reported.

For years, Paul distinguished himself among Senate Republicans by actually advocating for a reduced military presence overseas and a downsized military budget. His image as a strident critic of the military industrial complex was further solidified in his nearly 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor in which he mounted a lengthy protest against the secrecy surrounding drone strikes and delayed the confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan.

Now, as he competes with other Republicans for the conservative base’s allegiance, Paul has shifted from a libertarian senator who wants to completely eliminate war spending to a likely presidential candidate who has rallied Republicans around the need to defend the country against ISIS and Islamic extremists.

But the “stunning reversal,” as TIME called it, has been a long time coming. The Senate quickly rejected Paul’s budget in 2011 but two years later, his 2013 proposal that arose after the sequester called for an increase in defense appropriations from $521 billion in 2014 to $634 billion in 2023 — a smaller increase than the Congressional Budget Office projection but an increase nonetheless.

In June 2014, Paul penned an op-ed encouraging the U.S. not to take sides in Iraq’s civil war. “Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?,” he wrote. But then a few months later, Paul said he supported “destroying ISIS” through U.S. airstrikes. The position marked the first time in his three years in office that he supported military action. He also said at the time that he would keep money flowing to Israel and would restore some defense cuts.

His top political adviser said after the position switch that Paul is a “conservative realist” who changed his mind after ISIS beheaded two Americans.

The American defense budget has been growing astronomically since the terrorist attacks of 2001, long before Paul gained a reputation for speaking out on excessive spending. The budget increased steadily over the next decade until the Pentagon said in 2011 it would shrink the size of the Army and Marine Corps and cut projecting spending by $78 billion. Even still, the U.S. spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined.

Many of the other likely Republican presidential candidates have also championed increases to spending by the Pentagon, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

But a 2013 poll found that more U.S. voters favor slashing military spending versus cutting spending on domestic programs. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they would support cutting military spending, while just 23 percent said they would support slashing Social Security and Medicare, the poll said.