WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Rand Paul on Wednesday blasted fellow GOP lawmakers for ignoring the government's spiraling debt problem in their rush to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.
Paul, part of the GOP's small-government, libertarian wing, was the sole Republican to oppose party leaders and President-elect Donald Trump on a 51-48 procedural vote that's a precursor to upcoming legislation to repeal the law.
The Kentucky senator opposes the measure — a budget blueprint for the current fiscal year — because it endorses an almost $10 trillion increase in the national debt over the coming decade.
"The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same," Paul said in a scathing speech from the Senate floor. "What will the first order of business be for the new Republican majority? To pass a budget that never balances, to pass a budget that will add $9.7 trillion in new debt over 10 years? Is that really what we campaigned on? Is that really what the Republican Party represents?"
At issue is the convoluted budget-related process that Republicans have to go through to repeal Obamacare — the party's top priority under a unified GOP government led by Trump — without fear of a Democratic filibuster. First comes passage of the budget measure, which in this case is simply a "shell" measure that avoids difficult decisions on spending and debt.
Paul was having none of that.
"I was told again and again, 'Swallow it, take it, they're just numbers. Don't worry, it's not really a budget,' " Paul said. "If they're only numbers ... why don't we put numbers in that balance?"
Paul told reporters later, "I frankly think the debt is more important than any policy."
Paul said GOP leaders promise to turn to the deficit in earnest later in the year with action on a fiscal 2018 budget plan. He told reporters that though he would oppose the pending budget plan, he was likely to again vote in favor of the health care law repeal bill.
Paul was part of a crowded GOP presidential field last year but failed to catch fire and dropped out. He easily won a second term from Kentucky voters last year.