Consider military spending. Counting savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Paul calls for $832 billion in cuts over four years, which would leave the Pentagon's base budget in 2016 about 2 percent lower than it is now. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, backed by both Republicans and Democrats, insists cuts of that magnitude would be "catastrophic." Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns that "indiscriminate cuts" would cause "potentially irrevocable wounds to our national security." Howard McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, complains that "too many appear to believe that we can maintain a solid defense that is driven by budget choices, not strategic ones."
Indiscriminate cuts may be undesirable, but so is indiscriminate spending, which is what we have now, with the United States accounting for more than two-fifths of the world's military outlays. Budget choices should drive strategic choices, since we can no longer afford to squander defense dollars on projects that have little or nothing to do with defense, whether it's launching optional wars across the globe or protecting rich allies that are perfectly capable of protecting themselves.
Paul's proposed abolition of various departments, agencies and programs likewise should stimulate debate about the federal government's priorities. Aside from carrying out the decennial "enumeration" mandated by Article I, Section 2, does the Commerce Department do anything that is constitutionally authorized, let alone essential? What about HUD? Why should education be a federal responsibility at all, let alone one that requires an entire department? Is transportation security properly handled by the federal government or, as Paul argues, by the property owners whose interests are at stake?
These are the sort of questions presidential candidates would try to answer if they were truly determined to get our fiscal house in order.