Perhaps the most obvious trace of his old libertarian self is a belief that entitlements are unconstitutional. But this time around, he wants to “work our way out” of them.
A candidate who downplays entitlement reform should trouble not only libertarians, but anyone with a basic sense of the U.S.-budget reality. Projections indicate that without reform, entitlements will consume all American tax revenue by 2049 or even earlier – meaning that even if the government spends money on nothing else, at this point entitlements will require a steady stream of borrowing or tax hikes. Even if a President Paul succeeded in implementing all of the other cuts he wanted — a far-fetched scenario, even setting aside the assumption of a President Paul — he would be derelict in his duty if he left the task of fixing entitlements to a future administration.
The Paul campaign has not yet set a “time frame” for when a President Paul would tackle entitlement reform, Howard says. The Paul administration’s first priority would be to get the “Restore America” plan passed, which in turn would jumpstart the economy. “Obviously, achieving these goals will make it much easier, and politically feasible, to begin to reform Social Security and Medicare, which both require serious reform,” Howard says.
So, what explains the new cautious tone? Some have suggested that Paul’s views are bending to the practical reality that we’re stuck with entitlements — but that explanation doesn’t square with his unapologetically unrealistic plans in other areas. His proposals to eliminate five cabinet posts and slash overseas spending to the bone are so far-fetched that they wouldn’t be useful even as a starting point for negotiations. Another possibility is that he’s pandering the way any successful politician does — Grandma can have her Social Security check if we just cut this damn foreign aid — but he had no problem telling Republican-primary voters that Osama bin Laden shouldn’t have been killed.
The campaign, however, seems to think there hasn’t been too dramatic a change. “Congressman Paul still views these entitlements as unconstitutional and would like to see them phased out. He has in no way abandoned the idea of getting the government out of health care as well as reforming, and eventually totally eliminating, the federal role in entitlements,” Howard says.
But then: “Much like Senator Rand Paul’s plan, which is also supported by leading fiscal conservatives such as Senators Jim DeMint and Mike Lee, Dr. Paul’s plan preserves Social Security for those elderly retirees who have come to depend on it, while providing real spending cuts in other areas.”
— Robert VerBruggen is an associate editor of National Review. Twitter: RAVerBruggen.