U.S. Sen. Rand Paul may have scaled back his travel schedule after surgery to remove part of a lung damaged when he was tackled in 2017 outside his Bowling Green home, but the Republican isn’t scaling back his calls for taking a scalpel to a burgeoning federal budget.

Less than two weeks after that surgery, Paul began the process of easing back into his public activities by giving a speech in Whitley County in eastern Kentucky.

“I’m slowly getting back,” Kentucky’s junior senator said by phone as he traveled back to Bowling Green.

Paul explained that the surgery removed damaged tissue that wasn’t healing properly. Originally, his staff released a statement that Paul would be limiting his August activities and that he “should” return to the Senate in September; but the senator was a bit more optimistic Tuesday.

“I’m not used to being inactive,” he said. “I’m beginning to work again. I hope by September to be back to normal.”

Paul, an ophthalmologist before he entered politics, said he will attend a fundraiser in Louisville for Gov. Matt Bevin on Aug. 21 and travel to Paducah to do some pro bono eye surgery Aug. 28. He already seems back to normal in his rhetoric.

With the U.S. national debt reaching an all-time high of $22 trillion earlier this year and continuing to climb, Paul didn’t mince words as he took aim at both political parties for piling up the red ink.

Known for his annual “airing of grievances” in which he points out wasteful government spending, Paul spoke out against last month’s federal budget deal that increased spending and suspended the debt ceiling for two years.

“Republican House members went along with it,” said Paul, who introduced a bill earlier this year that would have mandated cutting 2 percent from the federal budget for each of the next five years. “People in both parties just don’t seem to care about it.”

Criticized last month for his opposition to an open-ended extension of the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund, Paul on Tuesday made his case for favoring limits on government spending.

“The interest on the federal debt is crowding out other spending,” he said. “In a few years, the interest on the federal debt will be bigger than military spending. I’m concerned about a country that has so much debt. It’s a real long-term problem, and we need to do a better job of addressing it. There are countries that balance their budgets every year.”

On another issue that many see as perhaps a greater threat to the nation – the rise in gun violence and mass shootings – Paul stopped short of calling for Senate action on gun control legislation that has passed the House but has not been moved forward by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“I’m horrified by the deaths and the carnage in El Paso and Dayton,” Paul said. “All of us want to figure out a way to stop that. But we have to take a practical view. What law could have stopped those incidents?”

The senator says he favors state-level laws that allow judges to remove guns from a household when someone is acting in a threatening manner.

“There are a lot of things we can do, but there has to be due process if you’re going to take away a person’s gun rights,” he said.

Paul also reiterated his desire to get involved in diplomatic talks with Iran, saying that the recent tensions between the Middle Eastern country and Great Britain over seized tankers have ratcheted up the dangers.

“Another long war in the Middle East would be a disaster,” Paul said. “I’m a big believer in diplomacy.”

Calling the Middle East a “complicated place,” Paul said he has offered to be an intermediary in negotiations with Iran and other countries in the region that might be interested in helping negotiate a deal to remove the sanctions imposed on Iran by President Trump.

“What kind of behavior should we expect from Iran in order to ease the sanctions that forbid them from selling their oil?” Paul said. “Are there some incremental steps that would allow that?”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.


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