What Won’t Rand Paul Fund? Bomb-Sniffing Elephants, Few Other Things

The clash between Rand Paul and Marco Rubio over defense spending stood out as one of the key moments in last night’s Republican presidential debate. Paul lambasted Rubio for wanting to increase military spending, arguing it would damage America’s security in the long run by running up our national debt. But what would Paul like to not see in the defense budget? Well, bomb-sniffing elephants for one, he told Iowa reporters this evening.

Paul held an event in Des Moines this evening with his new group of Iowa Veterans For Rand Paul. A little under 100 people attended the gathering at this headquarters, and the few reporters not at Jeb Bush’s event asked Paul questions afterward, focusing in on his military spending talking points.

“We spend more on our national defense, more on our military than the next ten countries combined, so the question is, ‘are we stronger if we borrow our way – are we going to be able to project power from bankruptcy court?'” Rand said when asked about his debate response on defense funding. “I think we have to hold the line in spending across the board. That doesn’t mean we won’t spend money on defense, we still spend a considerable amount of money on defense.”

So what exactly is the difference between him and Rubio? What defense funding does Rubio support that Paul does not?

“It’s hard to give you all the details of what [Rubio’s] proposed, but Benjamin Friedman wrote this up from Cato Institute in the last couple days, and he went through a recent policy speech by Rubio and he added it all up and he said it would be about a trillion dollars,” Rand replied.

But what specific defense projects would Paul oppose funding?

“Bomb-sniffing elephants,” Paul joked, then added a handful of real ones. “$43 million for a natural gas gas station in Afghanistan, $800,000 for a televised cricket league in Afghanistan, $250,000 to bring 24 kids from Pakistan to a space camp in Alabama. You name it. Tom Coburn was the king of finding waste. He says there’s $100 billion worth of waste in a $600 billion project. So there’s a lot of room for waste, but that’s the tip of the iceberg.”

That seemed like an odd and somewhat lacking response.

Paul chose the topic of defense spending to go to the mat with Rubio, an interesting target he hasn’t sparred much with in the past. He argued Rubio would add a trillion dollars, citing Friedman’s analysis, and Paul cast himself as the true conservative who wouldn’t add to the national debt by vastly expanding an already-strong military.

What Friedman pointed to was Rubio’s desire to return defense spending to pre-sequestration levels. Friedman believes that will cost $1 trillion over ten years, and wouldn’t even cover the specific extra projects Rubio has mentioned he supports. Among those are fully funding the Ohio-class ballistic submarine (about $10 billion for five years), an extra Virginia-class attack submarine a year, fund a missile defense program and modernize the military in a general sense.

But Paul didn’t list any of those specific programs that Rubio supports as ones he’s opposed to. And what of other questionable defense projects? How about the F-35 program, which was three years behind schedule and $200 billion over budget? What about a mention of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ efforts to trim old programs and military leadership positions? No criticism of defense contractors who take advantage of the bloated military bureaucracy or members of Congress defending home district boondoggles?

If Paul wants to make limited defense spending a key issue, shouldn’t he have something more in mind to cut than a joke, a relatively small mistake and some various waste? The examples he offered add up to a mere $44,050,000. The defense budget comes in right around $600 billion in 2015.

If that’s all he’s really opposed to, then why is he holding himself up as this shining beacon of fiscal restraint, when he can only easily name a handful of things everyone would be opposed to? Sticking to current sequestration funding levels, even with an effort to eliminate waste, isn’t some bold libertarian battle plan to reign in the excess of government. Nor is it fighting the “Washington Machine.” Considering this was Paul’s signature moment last night, you’d think he’d have thought it out more. And perhaps it’s an issue more reporters should delve into before the next debate.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/11/15

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