Nation & World

Rand Paul says debt is No. 1 U.S. problem

HARTFORD — During his first town-hall meeting in Kentucky since he was elected in November, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul ran into a crowd Tuesday frustrated and angered by the sour economy.

He said the sentiments were not unlike those he was seeing throughout the state.

Paul, a Bowling Green Republican who was swept into office with support of the tea party movement, was pounded with questions that ranged from excessive regulations to federal health care changes.

The setting was Hartford City Hall in the Ohio County seat in Western Kentucky that is primarily Democratic in voter registration. There has been a sign on the city's outskirts since the 1950s that declares it "Home of 2,000 Happy People and a Few Soreheads."

About 100 people jammed into the government building that was once a movie theater.

Before fielding about 15 questions during the hourlong session, Paul criticized "a government now full of busybodies" that he says overregulate.

The nation's No. 1 problem, said Paul, is its debt.

He advocated a balanced budget amendment and cutting one penny from every federal dollar spent for six years and then implementing a spending freeze for two years.

Such a move, said Paul, would mean "we won't have money for everything," but changes are in order to avoid a larger debt crisis.

Concerning federal entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid, Paul said, Americans are living longer, and there are fewer younger people to pay into the system. But Paul said it was "absolutely untrue" that Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicaid. He has been pushing for higher retirement ages for future recipients.

Paul also said he was willing to compromise. He said he would have been glad to vote for some recent Democratic proposals to lift the nation's debt ceiling if President Barack Obama and Congress would have supported a balanced budget.

A tough question from the audience came from Krystal Cox, 31, of Jefferson County, who has family in Ohio County.

She said she had surgery in May for kidney cancer and finally would get insurance in 2014 under the federal health care changes that critics have dubbed "Obamacare."

"Why should it be repealed?" she asked Paul, who had said it is too costly.

Paul said pre-existing health conditions and insurance portability have been problems that could be retained in health care changes.

But he said the plan backed by Obama "went too far" by creating a new entitlement program when there was not enough money to take care of programs already in effect.

Paul also said he thought every person on Medicare should be placed on the health care plan members of Congress enjoy.

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