Congress

Sen. Rand Paul’s austere budget plan goes down in Senate

Kentucky Republican said his plan would reverse a trajectory of ever-rising deficits in coming years

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., arrives in the Capitol for the weekly Senate Republican policy lunch on May 7, 2019. The Senate blocked consideration Monday of a bill by Paul that would require trillions of dollars in spending cuts over the coming decade to bring about a balanced budget. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate blocked consideration Monday of a bill by Sen. Rand Paul that would require trillions of dollars in spending cuts over the coming decade to bring about a balanced budget.

On a procedural vote of 22-69, the Senate refused to advance a budget plan that the Kentucky Republican said would reverse a trajectory of ever-rising deficits in coming years. “Today, the U.S. Senate can vote to put a stop to it and change course,” Paul said in a statement.

But the plan, which is similar to ones he has offered in previous years, has triggered bipartisan opposition because of the severity of spending cuts required to reach a balanced budget within five years, as the bill promises. Democrats oppose cuts to many domestic programs, while Republicans want to increase military spending.

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Paul’s plan would require cutting all programs except Social Security by 2 percent a year from fiscal 2019 levels for the next five years. Spending would then be allowed to grow at an annual 2 percent rate for the following five years, according to a summary statement. 

In fiscal 2020, the plan would require $183.1 billion in spending cuts, a level of austerity that could bring the appropriations process to a halt because of bipartisan objections. By contrast, congressional leaders already have begun negotiations to raise discretionary spending limits for the coming fiscal year to avoid having to cut about $125 billion from current spending levels to comply with limits imposed under a 2011 deficit reduction law.

Over 10 years, Paul’s plan would require cutting $11.3 trillion from projected spending levels, his office estimated. But it said the plan would still allow for spending to grow by 18.2 percent from current levels over the decade. 

The measure also would include instructions to make middle-class tax cuts permanent and allow for expanded access to Health Savings Accounts.

The GOP-controlled Senate Budget Committee adopted a plan in March that is much less ambitious than Paul’s, but it hasn’t been scheduled for floor debate. That blueprint envisions trimming deficits by $538 billion over five years, seeking to reduce deficits to the 50-year historical average as a share of the U.S. economy by fiscal 2024.

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A provision of the 1974 budget law requires the Senate Budget Committee to report a budget resolution to the floor by April 1. If that panel doesn’t act, Senate rules dictate that a budget plan referred to that committee, but not taken up, would be automatically discharged from committee and placed on the floor calendar.

The vote on Paul’s budget plan comes despite the Budget panel having adopted the separate plan from Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., in advance of the deadline on March 28.

But Senate GOP leaders have expressed no interest in taking up Enzi’s plan, which would trigger 50 hours of debate and a “vote-a-rama,” which could subject senators on both sides of the aisle to tough votes. And Paul has been vocal in pushing for a vote on his plan, which Senate leaders also attempted to bring up last year, but cloture was rejected by a similar margin.

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