Political Animal


June 23, 2011 2:20 PM Explaining ‘Penny Wise, Pound Foolish’ to Rand Paul

By Steve Benen

A Senate subcommittee held a hearing this week on funding the existing Older Americans Act, including a $2 billion investment to prevent senior hunger. The panel, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), explored how the government can actually save money through these investments.

It’s really not that complicated. By spending money to prevent hunger and malnutrition among the elderly, Americans can save on health care and nursing home costs.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), labeled “America’s Dumbest Senator” by some, was flabbergasted. “It’s curious that only in Washington can you spend $2 billion and claim that you’re saving money,” he said. “The idea or notion that spending money in Washington somehow is saving money really flies past most of the taxpayers.”

The video of the exchange is well worth watching. (via Oliver Willis)

I think Sanders and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) made this pretty clear, but I’m nevertheless fascinated by the ways in which the right is completely unfamiliar with notion of “penny wise, pound foolish.”

In the case of the Older Americans Act, the government spends a little money up front, and in the process, doesn’t have to spend more money later on more expensive care. Rand Paul thinks this, on a conceptual level, is ridiculous. I think Rand Paul, on any level, is ridiculous.

Understanding this just requires a little bit of thought. If we cut spending on volcano monitoring and tsunami warnings, we save a little money on maintenance, but pay a lot of money on damage repairs after disaster strikes. If we cut spending on food safety, we save a little money on inspection, but pay a lot of money on health care costs when consumers get sick. If we cut spending for the Securities and Exchange Commission, as Republicans are desperate to do, we save a little money on enforcement, but pay a lot of money to clean up financial catastrophes.

For every dollar the IRS spends on audits, liens, and property seizures, the government brings in more than $10. If we spend less on IRS enforcement, as Republicans demand, it costs us more.

Is this really that confusing?

Rand Paul finds all of this “curious” and concludes that the very idea of money-saving investments is absurd. Thanks again, Kentucky, for sending a conspicuously unintelligent, self-accredited ophthalmologist to the world’s greatest deliberative body.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • stormskies on June 23, 2011 2:26 PM:

    Understanding this just requires a little bit of thought.....

    well that little bit of thought is way to much thought for the vast majority of Americans .. indeed, one of the most stupid populations in the entire world

  • TR on June 23, 2011 2:27 PM:

    Paul: "When do we reach the point of absurdity?"

    Franken: "I think we just did."


  • Four Legsgood on June 23, 2011 2:33 PM:

    Dear Senator Paul, riddle me this, which is more cost effective, paying for termite treatment of your house? or building a new one after termites eat your current one causing it to collapse?

    Go ahead, think about it. We'll wait.


  • stormskies on June 23, 2011 2:34 PM:

    And that point of absurdity is also the fact that the people of Paul's state elected that absurdity called Rand Paul ...

  • kevo on June 23, 2011 2:38 PM:

    Talk about being out of touch with anything that smacks of common sense, Sen. Paul represents all that is wrong in the Tea-Snorting Party. I say Snorting because Paul seems to be on drugs whenever he opens his mouth, and after all, he prides himself as a libertarian, so maybe he is!

    As to your cliché Mr. Benen, "penny wise, pound foolish," another one just as evident comes to my mind. This one speaks to the true American experience that all Americans know well.

    Sen. Paul - every American knows you "have to spend money in order to save money!" And, if you don't know that one Mr. Paul, you don't deserve to call yourself an American! -Kevo

  • Chris on June 23, 2011 2:39 PM:

    I'll give Sen. Paul a small bit of credit (very small), when he asked "When do we reach the point of absurdity?" He's right - there is a point where you can be spending wastefully. For example, if the Older Americans Act was written so that Senator Sanders could qualify for aid, despite his income, we would be spending wastefully.

    I'm sure that's not the case. But perhaps if Sen. Paul realized we need smart, careful legislators who work hard and skillfully at crafting appropriate legislation and programs to fulfill the public's needs, we can save a lot of money through proper spending.

    You know - the kind of work that takes more than just asking "When do we reach the point of absurdity?"

  • Letitia on June 23, 2011 2:39 PM:

    Steve, it's willful. We all know it and we have to stop pulling our punches. Rand and the rest of the Republicans just aren't that stupid but they hope we are. They'll do whatever it takes to convince those with limited critical thinking skills to dismiss any spending out of hand, as we've all become painfully aware. No one can possibly be as lacking in sheer common sense without being able to function. And I'm sure on a personal level Rand practices what he pretends not to understand. Lying, it's not a bug, it's a feature. I'm sure Rand and the other Republicans are laughing up their sleeves at the sheer exasperation on the part of the Democrats that we just can't make them see reason. For the R's it's an added bonus. This is all part and parcel of your post a few days ago about "See what we have to put up with." Bullies and liars. They revel in it.

  • c u n d gulag on June 23, 2011 2:40 PM:

    This CLOWN was an Opthamologist?

    What did he tell his patients?

    "No, don't get glasses. Wait until you get into an flmaing car wreck. That'll be $500 for this appointment. Medicaid? Yes, we do take it. That'll be $1500."


  • Texas Aggie on June 23, 2011 2:44 PM:

    Steve, Steve, Steve, Just think a minute. When Mr. Paul says that spending money on food for elderly people is just a waste of money, he means that they should either buy their own food or starve to death and die quickly. He has absolutely no intention of doing anything for them to alter the effects of their insufficient diets other than to let them die unattended.

    What's so difficult to understand about that? This is what a death panel is all about. Don't you remember? The man is totally lacking in morality and sympathy. He really doesn't understand why anyone would be concerned about the life and well-being of another person.

  • Daryl McCullough on June 23, 2011 2:46 PM:

    I don't think Rand Paul is being foolish. He's being evil. Sanders' argument is that paying money now on nutrition can save from paying even more money later on nursing home care or medical care for the elderly. But Rand Paul wants to *not* pay money now and not pay money later, either. He doesn't want to pay to help the elderly, at all.

    That's what's so insidious about Republican arguments about the budget. To some gullible people, it seems that the Republicans are interested in spending our money wisely; maybe privatizing this or that would cost less than the corresponding government-run programs. But their goal is not to provide the same services more cheaply, their goal is to eliminate those services. There is no public support for eliminating Medicare or Social Security, but they can get support for "cost saving measures" that will accomplish the same thing.

  • FRP on June 23, 2011 2:46 PM:

    That was the first exposure for me to the oracle from self accreditation temple , Onan Kentucky .
    Whereas I feel a little bit better by gazing upon the robust good health of the vigorous senator from Onan , I cannot help the icky feeling of revulsion knowing that his health depends on most pitiful denial of basics in recent memory . I hedge a bit only in that the Fox News channel has taught me that when there is power prestige and cash available for stripping off any modest cerebral input for the unadorned id , everything goes .

  • Mnemosyne on June 23, 2011 2:48 PM:

    Texas Aggie beat me to it but, yes, Paul isn't thinking about having to spend money on nursing homes and healthcare costs later because he's assuming that we'll just let those people starve to death so there won't be any nursing home or healthcare costs in the future.

    Same with tsunami and volcano monitoring: since everyone is on their own in Paul's world, it's pure savings for the government to stop doing the monitoring because the government won't spend a penny helping Americans get back on their feet after a natural disaster. That's why there's no savings that Paul can see.

  • ManOutOfTime on June 23, 2011 2:49 PM:

    All kinds of ideas "fly right past" the public because the GOP, conservadems, and the MSM keep lying to them. Dr. Aquabuddha is pulling the "most" qualifier out of his ass, since recent polls show a majority of the public - all of whom are taxpayers despite Repug lies to the contrary (ever purchase anything? Congrats! You're a payer of tax!) - supports leaving SS and Medicare.

    You thought "death panels" would "kill Grandma" ... ? Wait till the public figures out that Grandma's losing her bed at the old folks home and moving back in with you! That will end the debate.

  • slappy magoo on June 23, 2011 2:50 PM:

    What I think this thunderbolt was trying to say, or what he'll no doubt insist he meant after he realizes how stupid he looked and how he needs to dig himself out of a hole of stupid, is this (which, by the way, is not how *I* feel, but what I think he'll say is how HE feels):

    We shouldn't be in the business of Medicare in the first place. Saving 2 billion dollars on giving apples to seniors in order to save more money later on is a moot point if we aren't in the position to have to spend that 2 billion dollars in the first place, which we wouldn't if we didn't have Medicare. So what are we saving, really? If we privatized Medicare we'd save (magically) untold billions by not being in the business of taking care of old people in the first place.

    This...THIS will be the walk-back. As awful and as evil and as out of touch as that is, it will be the "excuse" Paul will use to dig himself out of that hole. And his base will love him for it. because he's not black and he's not a Democrat and he understands that the world needs migrant workers & ditch diggers too (as long as it's not anyone in his base)

  • Robert M. Abbott on June 23, 2011 2:53 PM:

    According to a Tax Foundation study of federal taxes paid by citizens of each state compared to federal spending received by each state for the period 1981-2005, Kentucky has willingly taken $106,449,141,367 more in federal spending than its citizens have paid in taxes. Maybe people in Nevada are the stupid ones. We've paid more in taxes than we've received in spending, thus contributing to Kentucky's welfare. Eighteen other states have contributed to Kentucky as well. While 30 other states are in Kentucky's boat and by a large majority have voted Republican. Not a bad scam if you can get it.

  • linus bern on June 23, 2011 2:55 PM:

    Only in DC could people think you could save money by spending money to put oil in your car.

  • zeitgeist on June 23, 2011 3:06 PM:

    in honor of his extraordinary accomplishment in idiocy, we should henceforth change the aphorism to "Penny wise, Paul foolish."

  • zeitgeist on June 23, 2011 3:11 PM:

    in honor of his extraordinary accomplishment in idiocy, we should henceforth change the aphorism to "Penny wise, Paul foolish."

  • Zorro on June 23, 2011 3:12 PM:

    Thanks again, Kentucky, for sending a conspicuously unintelligent, self-accredited ophthalmologist to the world’s greatest deliberative body.

    In their defense, Paul *is* replacing Jim Bunning who, while a Hall of Fame worth pitcher, wasn't quite so good in the US Senate.

    So, in comparison, Paul's almost an upgrade.

    Almost, but not quite,

  • Toon Moene on June 23, 2011 3:18 PM:

    For every dollar the IRS spends on audits, liens, and property seizures, the government brings in more than $10. If we spend less on IRS enforcement, as Republicans demand, it costs us more.
    Yep, that was the response by the Dutch "Belastingdienst" (IRS) too - instead of letting off 5,000 civil servants working there, it would pay for itself many times over if the government hired 5,000 extra personnel, in taxes retrieved.

    Of course, our right wing government wouldn't have any of this, because it's made up of tax-evasion right-wing nouveau riches anyway.

  • FRP on June 23, 2011 3:19 PM:

    Not exactly sure how you form your opinion of Sen Sanders . My perception of the Vermont Senator is of that an ideal representative of the best of American values .

  • IOKIYAR on June 23, 2011 3:19 PM:

    Which is cheaper -- changing your car's oil at regular intervals, or replacing the engine after it seizes?

  • Anon on June 23, 2011 3:24 PM:

    Your error is in the use of "we". "We" don't save money by spending now because "we" shouldn't be spending money later, either.

    "We" shouldn't have to spend to clean up after a volcano erupts, only those foolish enough to live near one should. "We" shouldn't have to spend to deal with an outbreak of food-borne illness, only those foolish enough to eat cheap food should. "We" shouldn't have to spend to deal with expense medical treatment in old age, only those foolish enough to not get fabulously wealthy when they were young.

    Once you eliminate the very notion of "we" and thus the notion that "we" should be doing anything at all, then obviously "we" won't spend any money on the non-existence "us" later. Thus spending money now is just a waste, too.

  • Mudge on June 23, 2011 3:32 PM:

    Paul makes total sense in his world view. He only considers government money, he has no sense of nor concern for society. Spending federal money for health savings by citizens doesn't count, only federal savings counts. And federal savings to lower Medicare costs doesn't count because any Medicare expenses are "too much government". This is also explicit in Ryan's Medicare destruction plan. He views the waiver as a means to cut federal costs by isolating it from rising health care costs. He does not care if it leads to penury for the elderly as health care costs rise and wipe them out financially. Only federal money saved counts. Societal savings, or economic hardship, are irrelevant and unimportant to them.

  • Bartender on June 23, 2011 3:34 PM:

    Mr. Benen, while your blog is one of the best anywhere, PLEASE don't penalize half of Kentucky's voters with statements like "Thanks again, Kentucky, for sending a conspicuously unintelligent, self-accredited ophthalmologist to the world’s greatest deliberative body." It should read "Thanks again Kentucky REPUBLICANS, for...". As a proud Kentucky Democrat NEVER would I have ever voted for “America’s Dumbest Senator”!!!

  • Robert on June 23, 2011 4:03 PM:

    "Is this really that confusing?"

    Well, you are simplistic in your analysis to assume that only the Federal Gov't is an option for funding this. I was just in Joplin, MO to see, first hand, the tornado devestation. There are private groups there from all over the world and, believe me, most roll their eyes when they see FEMA. One big mistake the left is doing (and I almost hate to help you out!) is assuming that Rand Paul is an idiot. First off, if you are a real liberal who cares about civil liberties, he is one of the few allies you have in the Senate. Second, on foreign policy, he is as anti-stupid war as you can come. Okay, not saying you liberals are going to agree with him on many fiscal things--but I wish you guys would wet your pen against the hypocrits in your own party who have continued the "Patriot Act," FISA, Drone attacks and bailed out the banks...and the nice little detail of more troops dying in Afghanistan under Obama than under Bush.

  • Sean Scallon on June 23, 2011 4:18 PM:

    "I think Rand Paul, on any level, is ridiculous."

    Your support for the Patriot Act has now been noted.

  • Joshua Guess on June 23, 2011 4:25 PM:

    Hey, don't blame all Kentuckians, Steve. I voted against this idiot. I am sort of glad the country gets to see what a moron he actually is, though. Got to find a silver lining to him winning the election...

  • Anonymous on June 23, 2011 4:26 PM:

    Understanding this just requires a little bit of thought.....

    well that little bit of thought is way to much thought for the vast majority of Americans .. indeed, one of the most stupid populations in the entire world ...

    Posted by stormyskies

    i don't defend rand paul. i don't think i could have voted for rand paul on pain of death. however, you just made one monumentally ignorant statement.

    the genius of representative democracy isn't that the electorate always gets it right; it doesn't. it can't. the genius is that it gets it right more often than not. that's how we morons have managed to make it through a civil war, a depression, two world wars, a cold war and countless other crises over the past 235 years.

  • mr. irony on June 23, 2011 4:31 PM:

    GOP 2011: We Aren't Playing Dumb !

  • Mnemosyne on June 23, 2011 5:03 PM:

    I was just in Joplin, MO to see, first hand, the tornado devestation.

    I find it fascinating that you don't actually live in any of the devastated areas and didn't lose anything in the tornadoes, but you're completely comfortable deciding for other people who did lose their homes that they don't need federal assistance.

    It's pretty easy to decide that other people don't need things if you don't need them yourself, isn't it? Come back and talk to us about what a rugged individualist you are and how you don't need federal disaster assistance when it's your house that was turned into matchsticks by a tornado and not your neighbor's.

  • Bob on June 23, 2011 5:10 PM:

    For Kentucky it's double thanks because they sent us that dumb-a$$ McConnell too.

  • Jim on June 23, 2011 6:12 PM:

    "Only in Washington..."

    Hasn't Senator Paul ever owned a house or a car?

    Does he believe it foolish to replace a fan belt or a hose or a water heater rather than waiting for them to fail.

    It took me all of two seconds to think of those examples. Does the senator actually want to appear that foolish?

    I hope he learns to think some day.

  • Old Uncle Dave on June 23, 2011 6:16 PM:

    If the ruling corporations made windfall profits by providing social services, the us would be a welfare state.

  • Keeping Track on June 23, 2011 6:18 PM:

    Rand the eye surgeon:
    If you see that one quick stitch will take care of a problem, DON'T DO IT. Wait until you need ten stitches! Maybe you'll get lucky and your unattended patient will flee in disgust.
    It's nauseating to think that these guys believe that just because they own most of the talking heads, the average person won't "follow the money" in the oligarchic dystopia they're creating.

  • pattonbt on June 23, 2011 8:57 PM:

    No, Rand's not dumb (in his world), because for him, he wouldn't spend the money on the back end (health care/nursing home) costs either, he'd just let them die on the street. So for him, it is not spending money now to save money later, it's just spending money now on something we shouldn't spend on in the future either way.

    Being a Libertarian is so easy. Problem fixed!

  • exlibra on June 23, 2011 9:52 PM:

    Charity (the "solution" that the ingenue Senator and Robert @4:03PM prefer) also sucks at the government tit. Charities are tax exempt, which means that the rest of us -- who *do* pay taxes -- are supporting them, willy-nilly (plenty of "charities" I'd as soon *not* support), to a great extent. That may not be as direct a support as actually giving money to a project, but it's government support all the same. And, being indirect, it's, by necessity, that much less effective.

    And second, peculiar as it may sound to such penny-wise "fiscal conservatives", charity money seems to disappear just when the need for it is the greatest. Especially when the need is for looking after the poor. Plowing money into a chain of Food Banks or Free Clinics is nowhere near as "sexy" as giving a multi-million dollar painting to a museum or buying yourself a university wing.

    "exialb" influenced". May have been exialb or something else, but it sure seems to have fried the Kentuckian's brain efficiently

  • toowearyforoutrage on June 23, 2011 10:10 PM:

    Paul means to save the pound as well as the penny.

    Malnutrition? Paul's donors are never more than a servant's bell and half hour away from a five course repast.

    Food borne illness? This will be monitored and avoided in the finer restaurants where Paul's donors dine.

    Volcanoes and Tsunamis? You can't stop the damage, so why get warnings? Paul's donors are only in harm's way for a week at a time. Statistically speaking, they're entirely safe.

    IRS collections? Paul's donors are only too happy to put a stop to those. Tax revenue is a BAD thing. Starve the beast.

    Neither the penny nor the pound benefits the people Rand Paul represents. He's being entirely logical.

    Callous as hell, sure, but entirely sensible.

  • Schtick on June 23, 2011 10:20 PM:

    We've reached the point of absurdity when our tax dollars pay these elected idiots seven figure salaries for working less than two days a week and 100% health coverage for them and their families.

    please fire whomever wanted crapcha

  • biggerbox on June 23, 2011 10:47 PM:

    If charities could cover the need, why aren't they?

    It's not like Bernie Sanders made up those numbers he was spouting. If the private sector could solve this problem, why hasn't it?

    I get so annoyed with all these conservatives who say that private charities are the right approach and we shouldn't have government do things like this. Obviously, they've never worked in the nonprofit sector, and have no clue about the capabilities of that sector relative to the size of the problems they think it is capable of fixing.

    As soon as Rand Paul can document that in Kentucky there are no seniors going hungry because the churches and the other nonprofits have got it covered, I'll consider not supporting this spending. I'm not going to be holding my breath waiting.

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  • Victor Agreda Jr on June 24, 2011 11:56 AM:

    Let's see if I can put this in a way Rand Paul can understand...

    It costs, say, $40 to have your oil changed in your car. If you don't change the oil, ever, you DO save that $40.

    However, in a few months you'll wind up burning out your engine, resulting in a cost 10x or more of that oil change (even if you only had a couple of oil changes).

    Preventative maintenance isn't just for cars, it can be for people too! Unless you value machines more than people. Or corporations.

  • bandit on June 24, 2011 3:09 PM:

    If I had a penny on every dollar the feds claimed would be saved by bribing people for votes i'd own a fleet of solid gold Rolls Royces and live in the Taj Mahal.

  • drew on June 25, 2011 12:32 AM:

    Franken and Sanders are overlooking the fact that Rand Paul does not under any circumstance, even death, want to help one American. "let them eat cake" has been replaced with "let them die."

  • Clawhammer Jake on June 28, 2011 4:36 PM:

    I expect this sort of cruelty from the usual suspects.

    What I don't expect is for the American people to be cruel enough to elect them.

  • LA_CC on July 02, 2011 12:31 AM:

    It seemed obvious that both Sanders and Franken were being sincere, while Paul was simply being a smart-ass. It made him look like a 12-year old. Am I just old school? I think someone referred to the old 'A stitch in time saves 9.' Simple.Basic. Logic. It wasn't lost on this ass. As others point out, he's 'playing' for his dumb-ass base.

  • John B on July 03, 2011 11:56 AM:

    "The panel, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), explored how the government can actually save money through these investments."

    Some radical right wingers complain that we shouldn't take economic advice from people like Bernie Sanders, just because he has no economic knowledge, experience, or training, and is a socialist. I say it is exactly people like him we should listen to.

  • Amy Durfee West on July 15, 2011 10:31 AM:

    It's really more like "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," though "penny wise and pound foolish" is apt as well.