Kentucky Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump slams Biden, voices unsubstantiated election fraud claims at first rally of 2022 Overnight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks Photos of the Week: Voting rights, former Sen. Harry Reid and snowy owls MORE has made a 180-degree turn on defense spending weeks before he is scheduled to launch his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
The Kentucky Republican has offered an amendment to the Senate GOP budget that would increase total spending at the Pentagon for fiscal 2016 to $696 billion.
The Paul proposal matches another White House hopeful, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has called for the same funding target.
Paul would add $76 billion to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziLobbying world Cheney on same-sex marriage opposition: 'I was wrong' What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling MORE’s (R-Wyo.) total for spending at the Pentagon.
Paul wants to increase defense spending over the next two years by $190 billion.
It’s a reversal for Paul, who proposed significant defense spending cuts in the first budget he introduced after coming to the Senate in 2011.
Enzi’s budget keeps the Pentagon’s baseline budget at $523 billion but increases a separate account used to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to $96 billion.
The Paul amendment doesn’t specify whether his funding would be added to the baseline budget or the war account.
Republicans in the House and Senate have been worried the Pentagon will not have enough money once spending ceilings under a 2011 budget deal go back into place on Oct. 1. They have pressed for an end to the budget caps but have been opposed by fiscal conservatives. The Obama administration wants to lift the ceilings on defense and nondefense spending.
Time magazine first reported Paul’s amendment to dramatically boost defense funding.
Paul would offset the cost of the funding increase by cutting foreign aid, science and technology funding, natural resources and environment funding and education, training, employment and social services funding.
The amendment shows how he is adapting his position on defense spending ahead of next year’s primary, in which national security will feature prominently. It will likely receive a vote Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, as the Senate plows through hundreds of amendments.
The budget Paul introduced in 2011 decreased defense spending to $542 billion in 2016. Only seven senators voted for his proposal four years ago.
The budget he proposed in 2013, A Clear Vision to Revitalize America, set total defense spending at $542 billion in 2016 and $555 billion in 2017.
Paul’s 2016 rivals have tried to exploit his past positions on defense spending to argue that he is weak on national security.
Two years ago, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) accused Paul of failing to live up to former President Ronald Reagan’s national security vision.
“I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” he said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world, and I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad, but I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did.”
Other conservatives have questioned Paul’s foreign policy views.
“I predict Rand Paul will get fewer votes than his father got in 2012,” William Kristol, the founder of The Weekly Standard, said in November. “He's more dovish than President Obama on foreign policy. Republican voters aren't.”
But shifting toward the GOP mainstream on Pentagon funding could anger Paul’s core supporters, libertarians.
“Let's be clear: It ain't gonna help at all with libertarians who see in Paul their best hope for a major party politician whom they would vote for in a presidential race,” Nick Gillespie, the editor in chief of Reason.com, a libertarian website, wrote Thursday.
“Paul toys with lower-case libertarians at his own peril, as it’s this group that could well provide the difference not just in Republican primaries but a general election,” he added.