The Spectacle Blog

Fact-checking The Fact-Checker

By on 2.22.13 | 10:52AM

“Where would we cut spending? Let’s start with ending all foreign aid to countries that are burning our flag and chanting ‘Death to America.’ In addition, the president could begin by stopping selling or giving F-16s and Abrams tanks to Islamic radicals in Egypt.” — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in the tea party response to the State of the Union speech, Feb. 12, 2013

Earlier this week, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post “The Fact-Checker” gave Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) three Pinocchios for the above claim regarding cuts to foreign aid. According to the explanation Kessler has for this rating, Senator Paul’s claim had “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”

Yet nowhere in the “fact check” does Kessler prove Senator Paul has any contradictions or factual errors of any kind, never mind of the obvious or significant kind. This is the best he could come up with:

So, at best, Paul could claim to have found ½ of 1 percent of the needed savings.

There’s a simple reason why cutting foreign aid does not result in much savings, even when you take aim at some of the biggest recipients of foreign aid. That’s because foreign aid represents only about 1 percent of the total budget.

To be fair, Paul last year unveiled a budget plan that he said would balance the budget in five years, and it included many specific program reductions. In his response to the State of the Union, Paul said he would reintroduce the plan, but oddly he mentioned none of its proposals…..

The Pinocchio Test

Some readers might argue that Paul was simply making a rhetorical point. But even rhetorical points need to be rooted in reality.

Paul has an obligation to acknowledge that he was proposing at best symbolic cuts that would have virtually no impact on the budget, especially when he claimed that $4 trillions in reductions are necessary. Otherwise, in a high-profile speech, he simply perpetuated damaging myths that continue to mislead the American public.

Let’s examine three major aspects of Kessler’s rating:

First, the 2 percent of cuts Kessler talks about are merely representative of what Senator Paul talked about in his State of the Union response. Consider:

  1. He supported sequestration, which diminishes spending by $85 billion.
  2. He criticizes the President for taking entitlement spending cuts off the table, indicating he supports cutting the largest part of the federal budget.
  3. He supported the original Penny Plan, which cuts 1 percent of non-interest spending from the budget.
  4. He criticized Democrats for not wanting to cut domestic spending, and Republicans for not wanting to cut defense spending.

In short, Senator Paul talked about cutting far more than Kessler gave him credit for.

Second, Senator Paul said America should “start” with ending foreign aid to specific countries. Nowhere did he say — as other politicians in both parties do — that minor cuts would be a major step towards a balanced budget.

Third, Kessler insinuates that Senator Paul is misleading the public on the size of the fiscal problem facing America, and on the size of his referenced cuts in the foreign aid budget. Yet in December, barely two months ago, the Senator called for cutting entitlement spending. Two years ago, he proposed cutting entitlements and defense, in addition to other cuts, and a plan that would cut $500 billion from the budget in a single year. Additionally, as Kessler pointed out, Senator Paul has introduced his five-year balanced budget Platform to Revitalize America. Clearly, Senator Paul has not shied away from large, specific cuts, which means Kessler’s portrayal of Senator Paul’s intentions is misleading at best.

Senator Paul has been a high-profile advocate of major budget cuts, probably more than any other person in Washington except his father, former Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). While the average American certainly does not pay attention to Beltway politics, it is unfair for Kessler to act as though not specifying specific or major cuts in a single speech is dishonest — especially when Senator Paul has outlined specific cuts in the past and referenced both minor and major changes to federal spending in the very speech Kessler criticized.

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