Watch: Full interview with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) -
Boris Epshteyn: Hello, we’re here with Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky. Senator, thank you so much for joining me I really appreciate it.
Boris: Let’s dive right in let’s talk about the Penny Plan. You’re known as a “deficit hawk.” And here in D.C., we all know what that means and know why it’s important to work to drive down the deficit. But for the people at home, explain why is deficit, why is debt a problem?
Sen. Rand Paul: You know, we have a $21 trillion debt and interest payments on it, like you have interest on your house you have interest on the national debt. It's over $300 billion now, if we do nothing about it now, over the next 10 years, interest on debt will be bigger than national defense.
Boris: You recently brought the Penny Plan balanced budget to the floor. In 30 seconds, can you tell the viewers what the budget entails?
Paul: This would balance the budget in five years, and you cut one penny out of every dollar of federal spending. Most Americans have had times where they’ve struggled, made a little bit less money, had to suffer with one percent less. I think government could. There’s so much waste in government, you could easily cut one penny out of every dollar, and if you do it, the budget will actually balance in 5 years. It’s what we say we’re for. Republicans have said we’re for balanced budget amendment, they all voted for it and it says we’ll balance it in five years. But the sad thing is when it comes up, and you actually ask Republicans to vote for it, of course no Democrats will vote for it, and then over half the Republicans voted against balancing the budget in five years. They voted against the Penny Plan.
Boris: So the first time you brought the penny plan to the floor, it received 14 votes. Second time, a little progress, 21 votes. Do you think this has a shot?
Paul: Eventually, we’re going to have to do. Because as a country we’re going to suffer. You know, the foundation of the country is weakened by so much debt. There will come a time when interest rates begin to rise. See we’ve been paying, the federal reserve keeps the debt and the interest payments low by having the interest down around 2 percent. What if interest goes to 10 percent? Interest will be.
Boris: Which it has in the history of this country.
Paul: Absolutely, I bought my first house and I paid 11 percent interest. So if interest were to go to 11 percent again, or God forbid 15 percent, if that happens we cannot manage our debt and you get runaway inflation because the government just starts printing money to pay for its debt. This is looming and if we do nothing it’s a real danger to the country. In 2008, when we had that crisis, all the banks were over-leveraged, that could happen again and my concern is that your government over-leveraged.
Boris: What would it take for the penny plan to get closer or even to pass?
Paul: You need to get people in office who actually when they promise you they are for a balanced budget, will vote that way. Almost all of the Republicans have promised to vote for a balanced budget, so we have a majority of Republicans the problem is they didn’t keep their promises. You have Republicans who say “I'm for a balanced budget, I’m for the balanced budget amendment” but when presented with a budget that actually balances in 5 years with, they say “oh no i’m not going for that,” so the problem is you need people who are honest and will vote the way they promised. But we’re some elections away from that or they have to become frightened as the situation becomes worse, as interest payments balloon or we have trouble or interest begins to rise then maybe we’ll get people more serious. Right now we’re having trouble still.
Boris: You have developed a good relationship with President Trump after you ran against each other in the Republican primaries in 2016. You have worked closely together since he has become president. Where is he on the Penny Plan?
Paul: He had talked about supporting the Penny Plan when he was on the campaign trail. He is a little bit beholden to what Congress sends him though and if Congress were to have sent him the Penny Plan, I feel certain he would have signed it. But Congress has to have the courage to do their job and so, no, I think the president is with us but he was never presented anything that looked that good. He has lamented that he had to sign this recent omnibus bill that busted all the budget caps. our deficit this year will be as big as president obama’s deficit. remember all the republicans saying we are against big spending, President Obama’s spending. Now Republicans unfortunately are in charge of government that has allowed spending and debt to grow large, as well.
Boris: You’ve talked about fraud waste and abuse and how there are really examples that are really egregious that are really bad. What are one or two of the worst examples of waste in the federal government?
Paul: I'll give you an example. in Afghanistan we spent $90 million on a luxury hotel across the street from our embassy. Eleven years later the hotel still hasn’t been completed. It’s now a danger, snipers, terrorists, want to crawl up in it, want to shoot at our embassy ,our soldiers now have to patrol this half-built hotel and here’s the real rub, they’re talking about 1 part of government is going to sell to another part of government and then tear it down. So $90 million flushed down the toilet and it’s actually, we’re worse off because we have this structure that’s half built, somebody ran off with the money and now we’re worried about snipers going up and shooting at our soldiers, at our diplomats.
Boris: The president is taking steps toward balancing the budget, albeit they’re small. The president recently sent a recission package to the House and the Senate. It’s the largest recission package in history but still only $15 billion. What’s your position?
Paul: I’m for it. We gotta cut spending. and here’s the thing is, most of the spending in that package is unobligated funds meaning that they were supposed to be spent but were never spent, so it’s not like we are even actually eliminating a program. You’re getting rid of money that has simply been sitting there and not been spent. And here’s what I’ve heard. I’ve heard that in the House of Representatives that unfortunately there is not enough Republicans to pass it, first of all no Democrats will vote for this, but there’s not even enough Republicans, because Republicans have gotten wobbly in the knees and “oh no we’re afraid of cutting spending,” even though when they go home and they talk to their local Rotary or Lions Club they’re all about how conservative they are until they get up here and they can’t make the difficult decisions.
Boris: Specifically a lot of the criticism about that recission package, the $15 billion, is that it cuts some money allocated CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. What is the truth about the money that’s being rescinded as part of that package if it were to pass?
Paul: Most of the money is unobligated money, it was just sitting around. If there is any for the Children’s Health program, we have to look at that program like anything else, if there is any money for the, is there enough money to do all of these things? So for example, if I told you I wanted to help feed kids in my neighborhood and I wanted you to give me money and you said well I don’t have the money but I’ll go down to the bank, and I will borrow $1,000 and I’ll give it to you, would that be an appropriate thing to do? It’s not really that we aren’t compassionate. I want to help people as much as the next person. But we should help out of our surplus not out of debt. It makes no sense, for example we had a bill the other day in our foreign relations committee to send money for food to feed people in Africa . Well if you give up your wealth or your earnings to people, that’s a noble thing. But if we as a country go to the bank and borrow a $1 trillion and then send it all around the world to places, that just isn’t an honorable thing. It actually makes us weaker as a country.
Boris: Let’s talk about Senate rules. The Senate has a rule that requires 60 votes to pass most legislation. The president has called to go back to simple majority, meaning over 50. Where do you stand?
Paul: It's easy to be for a simple majority when you are in the majority. When you are in the minority though it’s not so, not so pleasant. In our history of our country, 240 years, I think there have been more bad ideas than good ideas and really our founding fathers wanted to preserve liberty. They didn’t want to just always pass legislation. So to me, preserving liberty and preserving your right to freedom of speech, your right to practice your religion as you wish, your right to own a gun, your right to be free from search and seizure. Those things are really important and maybe if we go to a simple majority somebody might try to take some of those rights away. Our founding fathers built in to amend our constitution you would need two thirds of the Congress and then you would need 3/4 of the state legislatures. They built in these obstacles to change and I’m a little bit worried about going away from the filibuster. It sounds good right now because we are in charge. I think the middle position is this: for the Supreme Court, I did vote for simple majority. I’m glad I did. President Trump’s pick of Neil Gorsuch may be the best person on the court as far as I’m concerned, right now, although I’m a big fan of Justice Thomas as well. So I would say that in some things we could go to a majority vote and we have legislation I’m a little bit weary of going to a simple majority.
Boris: Now just to be clear again for the viewers, the filibuster rules are not in the constitution, right? Those are Senate rules that could be changed by the Senate as they have, as have the judges and now Supreme Court justices.
Paul: They are and there are some in between positions, too. You can make people talk. So for example the Democrats have opposed every one of President Trump nominees. He has had fewer nominees approved then anybody in the history of our country. So, the Democrats are just mad. They lost the election and they are acting out. You could say to them, if you want to filibuster you have to come to the floor and speak. And I’ve had to do that.
Boris: That’s the way it used to be, right? The phonebook.
Paul: I’ve done that before and I’ve been shut down by my party for not being able to have enough people lined up to speak. So we could make them speak and I think that's what a lot of us are agitating for now and saying look, if they want to filibuster, you know, the ambassador to Switzerland
Boris: Or to Germany for example.
Paul: Yeah. if they want to filibuster those things, what we should do is alright, come to the floor and speak for 30 hours. They will get tired of it pretty soon. See, right now they are filibustering things they actually vote for. So we had a couple of judges who got 100 to nothing and the Democrats filibustered and wasted time on the filibuster and then voted for these judges. It wasn't their opposition.
Boris: Why did they do that?
Paul: Petulence. Unhappiness. Mad. Sour grapes. They, they, they lost the election and they’re unhappy. However I think there are times when you filibuster against things. So for example, I think no citizen should ever be kept or imprisoned in the United States without trial. The whole presumption of innocence is an incredibly important thing for our country and I’ll filibuster against that. I’m willing to go to the floor and talk hours on end to try and defend something like that, if they said you couldn’t practice your religion or I couldn’t practice my religion as I see fit, those are things worth it. I think there is a role for the filibuster but maybe if you make people speak, there would be less of it.
Boris: There is a worry out there that if Democrats were to take the Senate, the Democrats would get rid of the rule and pass the legislation that the Democrat Party supports and the Republicans would be in a tough place, right?
Paul: Yeah, I think you have to look at it independent of that because I think if you look at it every bit of legislation as well this is what the Democrats would do so it’s not so good so we should do it first. I don't think it is the best way to look at it. I’m open to saying we should look at the filibuster in the sense that people should have to speak. Maybe, there are certain motions, a couple of different motions that can be filibustered. Could we eliminate one of the motions and only have one filibuster instead of two filibuster votes because the Senate does move very slow. But I would warn people that who want big government and who want the government to intrude into their life are the majority in Washington. So if you make it easier for these people to pass things, you’re going to get more controls in your life more controls in your business, and by and large Washington is not a good thing if you are trying to be left alone. Washington does too many things and if you make it easy for a simple majority, you may well regret it.
Boris: Interesting. I want to touch on two more topics as we wrap up. First, on Iran, the president recently pulled the United States out of the Iran deal. Not a treaty. He did not get the opportunity to vote on it as a treaty because President Obama didn’t follow the right process. What is your stance on the president's decision and where it goes from now?
Paul: The first problem with the Iran agreement which I opposed the way it was created is that it gave all the money to Iran upfront. If we were going to have an agreement I would have parsed the money out slower over a multiyear period to try and help and aid with their compliance. I think they have complied with the nuclear agreement. They have not been willing to talk about ballistic missiles.
Boris: Or terrorism, right?
Paul: Right. I wouldn’t have torn the agreement up. I would have tried to get a new agreement and I think the one thing that people who think tearing it up and starting over will be better, the mistake of that is that Iran does a lot of things in response to Saudi Arabia. There is an arms race in the Middle East between the two. There is a thousand year old war between the Sunni and Shia factions of Islam. We are now selling over $300 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia. Iran reacts to that and Iran then tries to beef up their military, their ballistic missiles. If you want a ballistic missile treaty, if you want Iran to stand down, its going to have to include something that Saudi Arabia is willing to give on. If you don’t do that I think Iran won't and until we realize that I don't think we are going to get anywhere. My fear is in ripping up the agreement, there will be no agreement. There will be sanctions again. But Iran will keep doing what they’re doing. They won’t change their behavior. So I would have been for adding a ballistic missile agreement on top of the existing agreement if we can get that, but I’m afraid we have taken a step backwards.
Boris: In terms of their nuclear program Israel has suggested and their have been reports that Iran has not scrapped the program. But you do believe that based on the information you have that Iran was in compliance with the deal?
Paul: All of the inspectors have gone in and have said they are in compliance. There haven’t been any inspectors. These are independent folks who go in and know how to monitor sites. There hasn’t been any indication that they have gone back. There is a danger now if the agreement is gone they very well may start up their centrifuges again. I think the knowledge once you have it, it is easy to get started again. That’s my fear that they’ll start back on the program and they’ll kick out inspectors. We’ll see what happens. It’s a difficult situation and it's not that we condone anything Iran does but if we want them to do something different we have to figure out how to carrot and stick to get them to do what we want.
Boris: In terms of the stick are you in favor of strong sanctions on Iran now to make sure they do wrap down or get rid of their nuclear program?
Paul: I think the problem is they already were and we had an agreement. I think things are going to get worse now and I think sanctions actually are going to make it worse.
Boris: Okay, thank you so much. Thanks for joining us.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Boris Epshteyn formerly served as a Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign and served in the White House as Special Assistant to The President and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations.